I Was Monty's Double (film)

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I Was Monty's Double
I Was Monty's Double film poster.jpg
Directed by John Guillermin
Screenplay by Bryan Forbes
Based onI Was Monty's Double
by M. E. Clifton James
Produced by Maxwell Setton at Walton Studios
Cinematography Basil Emmott
Edited by Max Benedict
Music by John Addison
Distributed byAssociated British-Pathé Limited
Release date
  • 21 September 1958 (1958-09-21)
Running time
99 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

I Was Monty's Double (titled Hell, Heaven or Hoboken in the U.S.) is a 1958 film produced by the Associated British Picture Corporation [1] and directed by John Guillermin. The screenplay was adapted by Bryan Forbes from the autobiography of M. E. Clifton James, an actor who pretended to be General Bernard Montgomery as a decoy during World War II.



A few months before the D-Day landings during World War II, the British government launches a misinformation campaign, spreading a rumour that the landings might occur at a location other than Normandy. The details of the operation are handed to two intelligence officers, Colonel Logan and Major Harvey. They are initially unable to devise such a plan, but one night, Harvey sees an actor at a London theatre performing a convincing impression of General Bernard Montgomery.

The actor is M. E. Clifton James, a lieutenant stationed in Leicester with the Royal Army Pay Corps and a professional actor during peacetime. He is summoned to London purportedly to test for an army film, and a plan is devised by which he will tour North Africa impersonating Montgomery.

James doubts that he can successfully impersonate Montgomery, but he agrees to try. Disguised as a corporal, he spends time at Montgomery's headquarters and learns to copy the general's mannerisms and style. After an interview with the general, James is dispatched to tour North Africa.

Accompanied by Harvey, who is playing the role of a brigadier and Montgomery's aide-de-camp, James arrives at Gibraltar, where the governor, who has known Montgomery for years, is astounded by the likeness. To further the deception, local businessman and known German agent Karl Nielson is invited to dinner so that he will learn of and spread the information.

James and Harvey tour North Africa and visit the troops. With only a few days remaining before the landings, it is learned that the Germans have indeed been fooled and have kept many troops in the south, away from Normandy. His job completed, James hides at a heavily guarded villa on the coast.

The Germans have been deceived further than Harvey realises. A team of German commandos are transported by submarine to kidnap Montgomery. They kill his guards and are ready to embark with James, but Harvey learns of the kidnapping and foils it at the last moment. They return quietly to London.


Comparison with book

The film broadly follows the account by James in his book of the same name, but according to James, there was no attempt to kidnap him. The German high command did plan to have him killed, but Hitler vetoed the plan until he could be sure where the landings would actually take place.

Gibraltar was in reality a hotbed of German agents, and James/Montgomery was watched by several operatives who were smuggled into Gibraltar specifically for that purpose. James/Montgomery deliberately talked about nonexistent operations and plans in the hope that the spies would overhear and take his misinformation seriously.

The intelligence officer who initially recruited James was David Niven, who was serving as a lieutenant colonel at the war office.


When James agreed to impersonate Montgomery, he was barred from mentioning it under army regulations. However, after Operation Copperhead was mentioned in the book My Three Years with Eisenhower, James asked for and received permission to write a book, [2] which was published in 1954. [3]

In June 1956, it was announced that the film rights had been purchased by Todon Productions, the company owned by Tony Owen and Donna Reed. Todon wanted Laurence Olivier to play Montgomery and Stephen Watts was assigned to write the treatment. [4] [5] Frederic March was named as another possibility for the lead. [6] In mid-June, it was announced that Clifton James would play himself and Montgomery, with Olivier the leading choice for the other main role. Permission from Montgomery and the war office was conditional upon script approval. [7] A deal was signed with Columbia to distribute. [8]

In August 1956, the film was listed on Todon's slate, which also included Town on Trial , another film directed by John Guillermin and starring John Mills. [9] In September, Michael Rennie was mentioned as a lead. [10] In July 1957, it was announced that Ken Hughes would direct. [11]

Producer Maxwell Setton took the film for Rank, which agreed to finance, but Rank head John Davis wanted Bryan Forbes' script vetted by head of production Earl St. John. Setton then took the project to Robert Clark at the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), and Clark agreed to finance the film.

Setton changed the nationality of Marius Goring's spy character from Spanish to Swedish to enable the unit to film in Gibraltar. [12]

Newsreel footage shows the real Bernard Montgomery in many scenes, but "for a few key moments, James stands in for the real Monty." [13] [N 1]

In January 1959, ABPC signed a deal with National Telefilm Associates for American distribution of I Was Monty's Double and Ice Cold in Alex in the U.S. [15]


I Was Monty's Double was a success at the British box office. [16] James embarked on a tour to promote the film. [17]

Variety described the film as "excellently acted and directed....the film has several moments of real tension. Even with a somewhat fictionalized ending, there is a documentary flavor about it which is absorbing. Plenty of news footage has been woven into the pic and it has been done with commendable ingenuity. Bryan Forbes’ taut screenplay is liberally spiced with humor...James shows himself to be a resourceful actor in his own right... An extraordinary story told convincingly and compellingly." [18]

Film reviewer Stephen Vagg has written that the film is "... splendidly entertaining. The script was written by thespian-turned-scribe Bryan Forbes, and there’s some lovely "actor" character stuff in the film, eg. James thinking he’s being hired for a film role and bringing along a scrapbook of his reviews, James having last-minute nerves, James getting up on stage and worrying about blowing it." [19]

Stephen Watts, who was involved in the real military operation, felt that James "played himself with great skill and distinction." [20]

When Montgomery viewed the film at a London cinema, audiences outside reportedly assumed that he was Clifton James. [21]

I Was Monty's Double inspired a Goon Show episode entitled "I Was Monty's Treble", referring to at least three doppelgängers. [22]

The film was spoofed in the comedy film On the Double , in which Danny Kaye plays a double role.[ citation needed ]

When the Private Eye comic strip Battle for Britain ended following the 1987 general election, writer Ian Hislop depicted his nom-de-plume Monty Stubble's gravestone with the inscription "I Was Monty Stubble."[ citation needed ]

See also

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  1. On some US prints, the title is Hell, Heaven or Hoboken, taken from an address made by the title character to US officers. [14]


  1. Film credits and Variety film review; 5 November 1958, p. 7.
  2. THE MAN WHO LOOKS LIKE MONTY Buchwald, Art. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]27 Nov 1958: B5.
  3. I Was Monty's Double. By M. E. Clifton James (Book Review) G. M. O. D. The Spectator; London Vol. 193, Iss. 6582, (Aug 20, 1954): 239.
  4. Looking at Hollywood: Tony Owen, Donna Reed To Film Montgomery Story Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 6 June 1956: b4.
  5. BRITISH WAR BOOK BOUGHT FOR MOVIE: Todon, Independent Concern, Obtains Rights to Story of Montgomery's 'Double' Ray and Ryan to Co-Star By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.6 June 1956: 36.
  6. Drama: 'Tea, Sympathy' Youths Will Costar; Scripter Going on Kelly Mission Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]09 June 1956: 13.
  7. NOTED ON THE BRITISH MOVIE SCENE: Footnotes on 'Monty's Double'--Selznick's Hurdle--Addenda Royalty Outspoken Potpourri By STEPHEN WATTS LONDON. New York Times 17 June 1956: 103.
  8. Drama: Third Cagney Subject Developed by Writer; Stevens Slates 'Feud' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 22 June 1956: 23.
  9. A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Studio Has 4 McGowans, Not to Mention a Megowan Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]26 Aug 1956: D2.
  10. O'Herlihy Plans Film in Ireland; Hitler Quest Themes Picture Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 1956: B7.
  11. BRITAIN'S SCREEN SCENE: New York Times 28 July 1957: 69.
  12. Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of The 1950s The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press USA. p. 180.
  13. Axmaker, Sean. "Film article: 'I Was Monty's Double' AKA'Hell, Heaven or Hoboken'." TCM, 2019. Retrieved: 8 August 2019.
  14. "Release Dates: 'I Was Monty's Double'." IMDb, 2019. Retrieved: 8 August 2019.
  15. "New ABP, Rank Deal". Variety. 21 January 1959. p. 13.
  16. NOTED ON THE MOVIE SCENE ALONG THE THAMES: New York Times 30 Nov 1958: X7.
  17. "British stunt pays off". Variety. 23 February 1959. p. 13.
  18. Review of film at Variety
  19. Vagg, Stephen (17 November 2020). "John Guillermin: Action Man". Filmink.
  20. Watts, Stephen (1962). Moonlight on a lake in Bond Street. Norton. p. 173.
  21. "London". Variety. 12 November 1958. p. 62.
  22. Wilmut, Roger; Grafton, Jimmy (1981). The Goon Show Companion – A History and Goonography. London: Robson Books. ISBN   0-903895-64-1.


  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN   978-1-57488-263-6.
  • Halliwell, Leslie. Leslie Halliwell's Film Guide. New York: Harper & Roe, 1989. ISBN   978-0-06016-322-8.

Further reading