THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED. A White Cross Production distributed by British Lions Ltd., Magna Film Distributors. United Kingdom-Germany, 1962. 1 hour 36 minutes. Aspect ratio 2.35:1
Director: Quentin Lawrence. Screenplay: Lewis Greifer, Louis Marks. Story: Lewis Greifer. Cinematography: Stephen Dade. Music: Philip Green. Producer: Norman Williams. CAST: Stanley Baker (Joe Newman/Joachim Deutsch), Mai Zetterling (Lisa Deutsch), Peter Cushing (Dr. Peter von Brecht), Nigel Green (Hirsch), Eric Portman (Inspector Hofmeister), Niall MacGinnis (Brenner), Georgina Ward (Maria)
Adapted from a 1959 TV mini-series, The Man Who Finally Died is a competently made early '60s British mystery yarn that draws upon the building blocks of both Cold War espionage thriller and film noir. Jazz musician Joe Newman (Stanley Baker) gets a call from a German claiming to be Kurt Deutsch, his father who had supposedly died during the war, while in Königsbaden, a town in Bavaria, a hearse bearing the name of "Kurt Deutsch" is shown to be driven over the piazza. Joe decides to drop in at Königsbaden to find out what the heck is really going on, but is immediately trailed by a cop (Nigel Green), and obstructed by his father's new wife Lisa (Mai Zetterling) and her adviser cum family doctor von Brecht (Peter Cushing). He is convinced that there is a conspiracy afoot, possibly involving the local police, to legally keep Kurt deceased, all the while trying to ship him off somewhere. He trusts neither Lisa nor von Brecht, and has a tense conversation with the latter regarding the latter's Nazi affiliation. Is a Neo-Nazi cabal responsible for his father's disappearance? Or was he a victim of a much more prosaic crime, aimed at collecting one million Deutsch Marks of life insurance payment, as the suave, gun-toting insurance investigator Brenner (Niall MacGinnis, perhaps best known as the evil Dr. Karswell in Curse of the Demon ) tells Joe?
Like the character of Kurt Deutsch, the film changes identity in the latter third, dropping film noir affectations and turning into a more straightforward Cold War thriller, ideologically aligned with the notion of postwar West Germany as a staunch ally of the United Kingdom against the dastardly Soviet Union. Still, the film maintains a reasonably complex view of major characters: both Cushing and MacGinnis play with audience expectations, keeping us unsure where their real allegiances lie. Stanley Baker cuts a likeable hero and conveys well the moral conundrum of a man trying to expose the truth but in the process possibly bringing danger to more than one lives, while suitably emotional and bull-headed when required. The actors playing police are somewhat disadvantaged by their stilted German accent, although the always reliable Nigel Green serves as a nicely droll Greek chorus to the proceedings.
The Man Who Finally Died is filmed in the widescreen ratio by Stephen Dade (Nights of the Round Table ). The iTV stalwart Quentin Lawrence's direction is not terribly dynamic but the scope visuals are otherwise quite attractive. The mono soundtrack features a harpsichord-inflected, effective score composed by Philip Green (one of Basil Dearden's regular collaborators, for instance, in Sapphire ).
Network/Studio Canal. The British Film Series. PAL Region 2. Video: Widescreen 2.35:1. Audio: English Mono. No subtitles. Supplements: Image Gallery, Promotional Materials in PDF. Street Date: July 1, 2013.
Another item in the Studio Canal and Network's British Film series, The Man Who Finally Died seems to have received a brand-new HD transfer. I am not certain why this particular title has not been issued as a Blu Ray, but the image is sparkling clean, with perhaps a bit of overactive digital cleansing at work and/or boosted contrast. The details are sharp and black levels are rich and deep. No CinemaScope distortions are noticeable either.
The audio is also quite good given the inherent limitations, preferring Green's suspenseful music score to the sound effects, some of which (such as the impact of punches thrown by Joe) are not perfectly registered. The unattractive DVD cover seems to have been cobbled together from elements of the original poster and still photos of Baker and Ward, although the original poster is not something to write home about either. Rather intelligent if conventional, and buttressed by solid performances by genre experts such as Baker, Cushing, MacGinnis and Green, The Man Who Finally Died is recommended to the fans of classic Cold War/spy films as well as those of the above-mentioned British actors.