Libel (1959) – A Movie Review

Libel is a British courtroom drama. The legal case is a libel charge against a man, Jeffrey Buckenham, who claims that an imposter stole the identity of an English baronet.  Buckenham claims that during WWII in a German POW camp, a fellow POW who looked remarkably similar to Sir Mark Loddon stole his identity during an escape from the camp.  Buckenham claims that during their escape the imposter, Frank Welney, escaped but Lodden perished.  Dirk Bogarde plays both Loddon and Welney.  Olivia de Havilland plays Lodden’s wife, Lady Margaret Loddon.  Paul Massie plays Buckenham.  And finally, familiar character actors Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White play, respectively, the prosecuting and defense attorneys.

The story develops with us seeing that the man assumed to be Mark Lodden suffers from extreme amnesia of his pre-war life and is also haunted by recurring nightmares that include a snatch of song and an image of a face in a mirror.  His wife provides patient support during all his agony but as the trial progresses the story told by Buckenham begins to eat away at her belief in her husband and his identity.  Buckenham relates details about Welney’s behavior that makes it plausible that he might have pulled off the impersonation.  He was a professional actor.  He had pumped Lodden for details of his private life.  Welney had a missing finger that the present Sir Lodden also claimed to have lost to a bullet wound during his escape.  Buckenham even testified that he overheard Welney talking to himself about impersonating Lodden if he ever returned but Lodden didn’t.  Before the end of the trial Lady Margaret Loddon becomes convinced that she’s married to an imposter that did away with her actual fiancé.

The testimony by Buckenham and Lodden are portrayed with flashbacks of the wartime interaction of the protagonists in the POW camp.  The acting is good.  The script is relatively taut for such a convoluted story and the tension is well maintained.  The finale is a bit of a twist and is as plausible or implausible as the rest of this slightly unlikely story.  I recommend it.