ⓘ The Great Impostor


ⓘ The Great Impostor

For The Fleetwoods song, see Hes The Great Imposter.

The Great Impostor is a 1961 movie based on the true story of an impostor named Ferdinand Waldo Demara. The film is loosely based on Robert Crichtons 1959 biography of the same name, it stars Tony Curtis in the title role, and was directed by Robert Mulligan. The film only loosely follows Demaras real-life exploits, and is much lighter in tone than the book on which it is based.


1. Plot

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 wardens daughter, Eulalie.

Blackmailed by an inmate who recognizes him from the military jail, Demara once again flees. He joins the Royal Canadian Navy, using the forged credentials of a doctor. After falling in love with a RCN Nursing Sister, Catherine Lacey, he goes to Korea to serve aboard HMCS Cayuga. He ends up doing dental work on the ships 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 Demaras 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.


2. Cast

  • Gage Clarke as Mr. Warren uncredited
  • Robert Middleton as Lt. Brown
  • Raymond Massey as the Abbot
  • Jeanette Nolan as Ma Demara
  • Edmond OBrien as Capt. Glover
  • Cindi Wood as WAC Lieutenant
  • Frank Gorshin as Barney
  • Gary Merrill as Pa Demara
  • Sue Ane Langdon as Eulalie
  • Joan Blackman as Catherine Lacey
  • Karl Malden as Father Devlin
  • Tony Curtis as Demara
  • Arthur OConnell as Warden Chandler

3. Reception

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, its been pointed out, is the spice of life, and Demaras 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."