Libel (film)

Libel is a 1959 British drama film[2][3]starring Olivia de Havilland, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Massie, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Robert Morley. The film's screenplay was written by Anatole de Grunwald and Karl Tunberg from a 1935 play of the same name by Edward Wooll.[4]

1959 Theatrical Poster
Directed byAnthony Asquith
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
Written byEdward Wooll (play)
Anatole de Grunwald
Karl Tunberg
Based onLibel!
by Edward Wooll
StarringDirk Bogarde
Olivia de Havilland
Paul Massie
Robert Morley
Wilfrid Hyde-White
Music byBenjamin Frankel
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Edited byFrank Clarke
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 23 October 1959 (1959-10-23)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1,170,000[1]

The film's location shots included Longleat House, Wiltshire (fictionalised as "Ingworth House") and London.[5]


While traveling in London, Jeffrey Buckenham (Paul Massie), a World War II pilot veteran from Canada, sees Baronet Sir Mark Sebastian Loddon (Dirk Bogarde) on television, leading a tour of his ancestral home in England. Buckenham recalls that he was held in a POW camp in Germany with then Major Loddon, who the Germans captured during the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Buckenham is convinced that Loddon is Frank Wellney, a British actor (also played by Bogarde). Wellney and Loddon shared their POW hut in 1945 and bore uncanny resemblances to each other.

Buckenham confronts Loddon and, with encouragement from Loddon's scheming cousin (Captain Gerald Loddon, played by Anthony Dawson), writes to a tabloid newspaper, claiming Wellney has usurped the young baronet's seat; that Mark Loddon is a "Bogus Baronet". Loddon sues Buckenham and the newspaper for libel, even though his mind is battered by experiences during his 1945 escape, after which he spent six months in hospital, from when he has little memory.

During the libel trial, Buckenham and Loddon tell their versions of wartime imprisonment and their escape. Buckenham liked Loddon and despised Wellney. Beckenham saw striking similarities between Loddon and Wellney, culminating in Wellney telling Loddon he felt "more like one of the [Loddon] family". In spring 1945, the three prisoners escaped their POW camp and headed towards the Dutch border, seeking advancing Allied forces. Loddon wore his British Army uniform and Wellney disguised himself in civilian clothes. One dark and misty night, having gone without food for days, Buckenham left Loddon and Wellney alone to steal food from a farm. As Buckenham returned he heard shots. In the mist he witnessed one man in British Army Battle Dress lying on the ground, apparently dead, and the other, in civilian clothes, running away. Although Buckenham was unable to get closer because German soldiers appeared the implication is Wellney fleeing the scene of Loddon's murder.

During the trial it emerges Loddon is missing part of his right index finger, just like Wellney. Although Loddon claims this happened when he was shot that night, Loddon allegedly also misses a childhood scar from his leg. Wellney's hair was prematurely grey, as is Loddon's now. Buckenham recounts how Wellney often asked Loddon about his personal life during their imprisonment; Loddon even joked that Wellney could pass for him. As evidence mounts, even Loddon's loyal wife (Olivia de Havilland) begins to doubt her husband's identity.

Hubert Foxley (Hyde-White), the defence barrister, produces a courtroom surprise. It turns out the third man in the British Army uniform seen by Buckenham did not die. Instead his face was horribly disfigured, his right arm was amputated due to injuries that night and his mind had become unhinged. He has been living in a German asylum since the war, known simply as "Number Fifteen", his bed number. Foxley produces the man in court, including the Battle Dress worn when he arrived at the German hospital, which is of a British major, the same rank as Loddon. When the disfigured man and Loddon recognise each other, in a dramatic courtroom confrontation, Loddon's memory starts to return.

In desperation, Loddon's barrister, Sir Wilfred (Robert Morley), puts Lady Margaret Loddon on the stand, but she testifies that she now believes her husband is Wellney, the impostor, implying that "Number Fifteen" is the real Sir Mark Loddon. Later, Lady Margaret confronts her husband, who in desperation walks the night trying to remember more. Finally, seeing his reflection in a canal unlocks his memories. Wellney did try to kill him while his back was turned, but he (Loddon) saw Wellney's reflection in the water and won their struggle. His memory returns of beating Wellney extensively with a farm tool before switching their clothes and fleeing. In court, Loddon remembers a keepsake hidden in his Battle Dress lining: a medallion his then fiancée gave him in 1939 before leaving for France. By finding it in Wellney's possession all the time, Loddon wins the libel case and his wife back. Buckenham and Loddon also reconcile although Buckenham and the newspaper must pay damages.


Box office

According to MGM records, the film earned $245,000 in the US and Canada and $925,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $10,000.[1]

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound (A. W. Watkins).[6]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Other adaptations of the play

The Broadway play, which had starred Colin Clive, was adapted for radio in 1941 using the original references to the First World War. Ronald Colman played the leading role in the 13 January 1941 CBS Lux Radio Theater broadcast, with Otto Kruger and Frances Robinson. The role of an amnesiac World War I veteran had similarities to Colman's part in the 1942 hit Random Harvest.[8]

A 1938 BBC television production,[9] featured actor Wyndham Goldie, husband of eventual BBC television producer Grace Wyndham Goldie.


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Variety film review; 21 October 1959, page 6.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; 24 October 1959, page 170.
  4. Libel!, written by Edward Wooll and directed by Anthony Asquith, played on Broadway for 159 performances in 1935-1936. Libel at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. Reel Streets
  6. "The 32nd Academy Awards (1960) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  7. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  8. "Libel" on Lux Radio Theater; 13 January 1941; at Internet Archive: Overview and Recording
  9. "Libel" (TV) 1938 Internet Movie Database
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