Libel (1959)

February 23, 2010

I'm a pretty smart person, but when it comes to movies I hardly ever figure out the twists before they occur. I know if I put my mind to it, I could.. but I'm usually so caught up in the story that I don't try to figure out what's going to happen while the movie is playing. Such was the case with Libel. I'd imagine some people out there might guess the ending before it happens or figure out all the twists before the movie is halfway finished... but I was surprised every step of the way, as confused and shocked as the screenwriters hoped their audience would be.

The film is about a wealthy British aristocrat, Sir Mark Sebastian Loddon, who sues a newspaper for libel after they print an accusation that he is an imposter. What seems like a simple case of slander actually turns into a case of stolen identity when it's revealed that there were two men -- almost identitcal -- who escaped from a POW camp together, Sir Mark Loddon and the scoundrel Frank Welney. Only one of them returned, and said he was Sir Mark.

As soon as they introduce the character of Frank Welney into the proceedings, you the viewer and all of the characters in the film are suddenly thrown into a sea of doubt. Is Sir Mark actually Frank Welney? If so, whatever happened to the real Sir Mark?

Dirk Bogarde plays Sir Mark Loddon in the present setting, Sir Mark in the prison camp flashbacks, and Frank Welney. Dirk Bogarde is one of those people who sometimes looks completely different from one photo to the next, so while his Sir Mark does look remarkably like Frank Welney, you don't for a minute doubt that these are two different people- not twins or one person playing dual roles. And his present-day Sir Mark looks even different still! It's really impossible to tell just from appearances which man is calling himself Sir Mark Loddon.

Libel has an outstanding supporting cast, including one of my favorite character actors, Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White (who is always, in my mind, Col. Pickering) and features a pretty impressive performance by Olivia de Havilland as Dirk Bogarde's wife. In a way, her role is connected to the audience in that what she feels, we feel. Close-ups of her reactions to developments in the case are used as hints as to what she is thinking, and what we should think. When she has complete faith in her husband, so do we. And when she doubts her husband, so do we.

If you're looking for an edge-of-your-seat courtroom thriller, I highly suggest Libel! And if you're just looking for another Dirk Bogarde film to enjoy, look no further than Libel, where you get two Dirk's for the price of one!


Sally said...

Ooh! This sounds really good! I love Olivia de Havilland and I am incredibly curious about Dirk Bogarde.

Artman2112 said...

as i mentioned to you before this is the only Dirk Bogarde film i've seen so far and I thought it was quite good. i love courtroom drama's anyway so it was quite a treat. you're correct in that Olivia is a mirror of ourselves as we watch it. she's very effective in the role, but that's no surprise. like you i rarely try to second guess a story while I'm watching it, i get way too absorbed, especially if its a really well-done. that's one reason i hate it when people talk when i'm watching a movie!!

emma wallace said...

This sounds interesting! I love mysteries - especially ones that have the philosophical "the truth depends on who's telling it" twist!

bombshellcat said...

Oooo! This does sound jut like the sort of film I would enjoy. How lovely!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I haven't seen Libel yet, but I really want to. It sounds very good and seeing Olivia and Sir Dirk together would be so cool!

Millie said...

Oh my. Olivia AND Dirk?!

This sounds brilliant.

Great review. Now, I REALLY want to see it! Is it on YouTube or anything?

Unknown said...

Actually you get THREE Dirks in Libel! All recognisable, all very different. It's a win-win-win situation for a hardened Dirk Bogarde fan (me). I hope that this blog hasn't gone inactive, seeing that I'm so late in discovering it. I had stumbled across it a few months ago, but had forgotten to bookmark it. Then I was very impressed and grateful for your comments re gay actors. They should be required reading for teenagers (I'm a teacher).