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The Great Impostor

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The Great Impostor

For The Fleetwoods' song, see (He's) The Great Imposter.
The Great Impostor
1961 poster
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Produced by Robert Arthur
Written by Robert Crichton (novel)
Liam O'Brien
Starring Tony Curtis
Frank Gorshin
Gary Merrill
Edmond O'Brien
Arthur O'Connell
Karl Malden
Raymond Massey
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Robert Burks
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • February¬†3,¬†1961¬†(1961-02-03)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Great Impostor is a 1961 movie based on the true story of an impostor named Ferdinand Waldo Demara.

Loosely based on Robert Crichton's 1959 biography of the same name, it stars Tony Curtis in the title role, directed by Robert Mulligan.

The film only loosely follows Demara's real-life exploits, and is much lighter in tone than the book on which it is based.


As he is arrested by the Coast Guard on an island in New England, a man born as Ferdinand Waldo Demara but known by many other identities recalls the events that brought him to this point.

Demara quit high school as a boy and joined the Army. He wanted to become an officer, but his lack of education worked against it. On a whim, he fakes a set of credentials and becomes a U.S. Marine.

When his lie is detected, Demara, facing jail, fakes a suicide and hides out as a Trappist monk. After a while, he is expelled from the monastery, captured and imprisoned in a military brig. But the warden inadvertently confides too many details of his own life to Demara, taking a liking to him. Upon his release, Demara impersonates the warden and lands a job working in a Texas penitentiary, where he takes up with his new warden's daughter, Eulalie.

Blackmailed by an inmate who recognizes him from the military jail, Demara once again flees. He joins the RCN Nursing Sister, Catherine Lacey, he goes to Korea to serve aboard HMCS Cayuga. He ends up doing dental work on the ship's captain, then performing operations in a Korean hospital.

Hailed as a "miracle doctor," Demara gains publicity that exposes his past. The Navy finds out who he really is and intends to hold a court-martial. Nurse Lacey and others vow to testify on Demara's behalf, having seen his good side. Worried about possible disrepute to the RCN, and his stellar service, he is allowed to leave under a general discharge. He then goes and becomes a teacher in New England.

The FBI eventually comes up with an agent whose assignment is to track down the great impostor and capture him. In the end, the agent is revealed to be Demara himself.




A.H. Weiler of the New York Times said: "...the film is not a harebrained exaggeration of the facts. But the story, enhanced by the serio-comic talents of Tony Curtis in the title role, add up to an odd-ball, but engaging, movie. ...Variety, it's been pointed out, is the spice of life, and Demara's life, as presented here, appears to be spicy beyond compare, but the record backs our adventurer fully. ...Suffice it to say that Mr. Curtis, running this gamut of adventures, seriously as well as with a wink, contributes the necessary light touch that makes palatable this derring-do based on factual data."[1]

See also


  1. ^ A.H. Weiler, "The Great Impostor" Mar. 30, 1961

External links

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