Sunday, October 04, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Great Impostor (1960) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE GREAT IMPOSTOR (1960) is part of the recently released Tony Curtis Collection, available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

The set also includes the previously reviewed THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (1958) as well as 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE (1962), which will be reviewed here at a future date.

THE GREAT IMPOSTOR was written by Liam O'Brien, based on the book by Robert Crichton.

It's the story of Ferdinand Demara Jr. (Tony Curtis), who assumed numerous identities and inserted himself into a variety of careers without previous training. Demara was smart enough to be a success for various lengths of time as everything from a prison warden to a monk to a surgeon in the Royal Canadian Navy, though his deceptions were inevitably discovered.

The film is a relatively lighthearted look at a disturbed man, focusing more on how he pulled off his impersonations than why. It's quite an enjoyable 113 minutes, managing to simultaneously entertain and raise troubling questions about the lead character.

Demara was smart enough that, even coming from a poor background, it seems as though he could have easily succeeded in one of his chosen professions if he tackled it from the "ground up," but he seemingly didn't have the patience for the years of hard work required; it also seems as though he thrived on the thrill and challenge of "cramming" information and then pushing himself to the limit, even performing surgery. It seems as though the stresses which would have exhausted a normal person instead gave him a drug-free kind of high.

While compassionate enough to make sure he didn't hurt the careers of those who believed in him, he's also psychologically disconnected; time after time he readily drops everyone from his life and starts over as a blank slate. The only constant in his life is the priest (Karl Malden) he's known since childhood. Demara is completely unable to commit to anything for the long term; indeed, when he finds a woman who truly loves him and is willing to marry him despite learning of his deception, he runs away.

All of this makes for an offbeat, unusual film, but Curtis and director Robert Mulligan manage to make it worthwhile, thought-provoking, and sometimes funny rather than distasteful. Demara's background and issues, including a father stuck in a dead-end career, are only briefly hinted at; it's up to the audience to attempt to understand him, while enjoying watching him find his way through various careers.

There are many marvelous "faces" scattered throughout the film, sometimes only having a scene or two. Among all these actors, Edmond O'Brien has one of the largest supporting roles and is wonderful as the Royal Navy captain who works with Demara when he's acting as a surgeon. (The real doctor Demara impersonated was played by Harry Carey Jr., in a single scene.) Raymond Massey is also excellent as the head of a monastery where Demara tries out the contemplative life; Massey's reaction near movie's end to learning of Demara's exploits is priceless.

The deep cast includes Arthur O'Connell, Gary Merrill, Frank Gorshin, Sue Ane Langdon, Joan Blackman, Larry Gates, Dick Sargent, David White, Jerry Paris, Robert Middleton, Jeanette Nolan, and Philip Ahn. Even more familiar faces such as Gage Clarke, Bob Hastings, Doodles Weaver, Russ Conway, and Bing Russell are in the film as well. Robert Crawford Jr., brother of Johnny Crawford of TV's THE RIFLEMAN, plays Demara as a child.

THE GREAT IMPOSTOR was filmed in widescreen black and white by Robert Burks. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print is excellent.

The disc extras are the movie trailer and a commentary track by Kat Ellinger.

All in all, it's a rather different film about a dishonorable man who does admirable things; it held my attention from start to finish and I enjoyed it. As I see more of his films, Tony Curtis continues to rise in my estimation as an underrated, compelling actor.

I've enjoyed the first two Blu-rays I've watched from the set, and having previously seen the third film in another context, I recommend this collection for fellow fans of the actor.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. 

2 Comments:

Blogger barrylane said...

The O'Briens were brothers.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's fantastic info, I had no idea! I need to pull out the book I bought on O'Brien in a McFarland sale and give it a read. :) Liam wrote a nice role for his brother in this.

Thanks!

Best wishes,
Laura

6:42 PM  

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