Ironically, Madden says he realized after creating his own German third-act double agent solution in Ground Meat Operation that the filmmakers of The man who never was arrived at a similar conundrum over 65 years ago when they separately came up with the vanity of an Irish spy with German sympathies infiltrating London to check documents on the person of Major Martin and seeing the woman who replaces Jean Leslie (whose name is not used in this film) at a distance in order to measure her level of mourning after the death of her supposed fiancé.
“Their response to the third act was to make it an instant verification of the portfolio letter and all of its details,” Madden explains. “Which is a perfectly valid answer to the material. Our path was completely different. It suddenly dawned on us that ultimately the third act was about their inability to control and their inability to know what had happened. So ultimately they are faced with a situation akin to existential terror where they have no idea if the other party is actually selling them a piece of disinformation, which could have completely catastrophic effects.
The truth is that there is a debate as to whether the German intelligence services really believed in the bait or simply decided not to tell the Führer.
“Once you’re in that part of the story, there are a number of theories, and you’ll find different ones,” Madden explains. But what is indisputable are various heads of German military intelligence and the military as a whole participated in the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. The Field Marshal who was to replace Hitler as Commander-in-Chief, Erwin von Witzleben, was executed in 1944, and the head of the Abwehr, Willhelm Canaris, was executed in 1945.
Von Witzleben was Hitler’s most trusted confidant on military matters, according to Madden, “and for his treachery he was hung on a meat hook and left to die in that condition for three days or so.” In other words, the revenge was beyond belief. Still, it’s hard to say whether German intelligence was deliberately working against Nazi leaders in 1943, let alone in relation to the body of a British officer found in Spain.
“That’s the fascinating realm you’re getting into with this,” Madden says. “It’s still a guess at this point. It’s true [the British] pushed an open door with the idea that the attack was going to pass through Greece and Sardinia. And the cover plane for this alleged attack was Sicily, which is a nice flip. It’s true that Hitler was extremely paranoid at the time because the war machine had been built entirely out of materials he was getting from the Balkans, and obviously having no idea how long that conflict lasted, it was a very, very essential factor for him. So he was probably inclined to believe this idea in some ways.