Scapegoat, The (1959): Hamer’s Crime Drama, Starring Alec Guinness and Bette Davis

Robert Hamer directed The Scapegoat, a mildly amusing crime film adapted to the screen by him and Gore Vidal from Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same title.

Photo: Alec Guinness with Grace Kelly in The Swan.

Playing a dual role, Guinness is well cast as John Barratt, a lonely and discontented teacher of French at a British university, vacations in France. There, by chance, he meets his double, French nobleman Jacques De Gué (also Guinness), and they become acquainted.

While drunk, Barratt accepts De Gué’s invitation to share his hotel room. However, when he wakes up the next morning, Barratt is alone, and his clothes and passport missing.

De Gué’s chauffeur Gaston (Geoffrey Keen) takes him to his master’s home, but Barratt is unable to convince that he is not the nobleman. Gaston calls Dr. Aloin (Noel Howlett), who diagnoses the Englishman as schizophrenic.

Barratt, bewildered, goes to De Gué’s chateau, where he meets “his” family: daughter Marie-Noel, wife Françoise (Irene Worth), sister Blanche (Pamela Brown) and formidable mother, the Countess (Bette Davis). None believe his story–they think De Gué is malicious liar–and so Barratt resigns himself to playing along.  With time, he feels needed for the first time in his life.

Later, in the nearby town, Barratt is nearly run down by De Gué’s mistress, Béla (Nicole Maurey), rising her horse. He spends the usual Wednesday afternoon tryst with her. The next time they meet, she informs him she has already guessed his true identity.

Taking care of the neglected family glass-making business, he decides to renew a contract with the local foundry, even on unfavorable terms, to avoid putting the employees out of work.

The Countess is upset by his decision and mentions a marriage contract. When Barratt investigates, he learns that Françoise’s wealth, tied up by her father, would come under his control if she were to die. Barratt tells her that the contract can be changed, but he begins to suspect the reason for De Gué’s disappearance.

Barratt goes to visit Bela, and when he returns, he learns that Françoise has died from a fall. Blanche accuses Barratt of murder, but Gaston provides alibi, having driven Barratt to his meeting with Béla.

De Gué resurfaces shortly afterwards, and the two men meet in private. The Frenchman demands his identity back, but Barratt refuses. Both men are armed and shots are exchanged. After his victory, Baratt returns to his new life and Béla.

The first choice to play the dual role was Cary Grant, but author du Maurier insisted on Guinness because he reminded her of her father, actor Gerald du Maurier.

The mixed to negative reaction to the low-key movie, resulted in a commercial flop, and MGM declared a loss of $400,000.

Alec Guinness as John Barratt/Jacques De Gué
Bette Davis as Countess De Gué
Nicole Maurey as Béla
Irene Worth as Françoise
Pamela Brown as Blanche
Annabel Bartlett as Marie-Noel
Geoffrey Keen as Gaston
Noel Howlett as Dr. Aloin
Peter Bull as Aristide
Leslie French as Lacoste
Alan Webb as Inspector


Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal, based on The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Edited by Jack Harris
Distributed by MGM
Release date: August 6, 1959
Running time: 91 minutes


TCM showed this film as part of a tribute to Bette Davis on November 26, 2019.