On the Double

Inciting Event: Just before D-Day, American GI Ernie attempts to go AWOL by impersonating British Colonel Lawrence Mackensie-Smith. He is arrested, and the British General Staff immediately seize upon his uncanny resemblance to the colonel and force him to officially impersonate the man—who has been targeted by German assassins. The story already opened with an attempt on Mackensie-Smith’s life, so viewers already know the score—but this scene is the first time Ernie learns of it. It’s his first brush with the story’s main conflict, and at this point he remains extremely reluctant to enter it willingly.

First Plot Point: Against his better judgment (and pretty much against his will), Ernie watches the real colonel leave on a plane, while he begins impersonating the man. This isn’t a major scene, such as we usually find at this point in the story. But it’s still the clear turning point: this is where Ernie enters the “adventure world” of the Second Act—the world of drunken womanizer Mackensie-Smith, who is nothing like innocent, good-hearted, bumbling, half-blind Ernie.

First Pinch Point: Mackensie-Smith’s wife, Lady Margaret, returns home unexpectedly and immediately figures out that lovable Ernie is not her brutish husband. She threatens him with a gun, until she learns from the General Staff that Ernie has been planted to draw out the enemy assassins, including a mole in the British Army—and that his code name is “Dead Pigeon,” since the British fully expect him to be killed.

The major impact of this scene is Lady Margaret’s introduction—which provides a clear turning point in the First Half of the Second Act. Her relationship with Ernie is a key factor in the rest of the story. We also gain the necessary emphasis of what’s at stake for Ernie (his life), but we don’t really gain any clues about the antagonistic force, since Ernie’s doomed fate was already revealed in an earlier scene.

Midpoint: After having his hat shot off during his Red Cross speech, Ernie learns from a conscience-ridden Margaret that he has been set up as a target for the men who want to kill her husband. They also learn the real colonel has been killed in a plane crash. These are two important revelations: the first is important to the main conflict and the second to the emotional subplot of Ernie’s relationship with Margaret. Neither are particularly strong, since they don’t dramatically change the scope of the story to follow (Ernie continues to be pretty reactive), but they do their job well enough as placeholders.

Second Pinch Point: During a party for the colonel’s Highland regiment, the British mole signals his comrades in a car below—and Ernie makes a fool of himself and nearly unmasks his identity to the colonel’s suspicious aunt. Again, this isn’t a particularly strong Pinch Point, especially since the identity of the British mole was already made clear to the audience. Rather, this is just a placeholder halfway through the Second Half of the Act, allowing for a big scene (literally and colloquially!).

Third Plot Point: Ernie is kidnapped and taken to Berlin. I’ve been noticing a lot of kidnappings taking place at the Third Plot Point lately—and that’s because they work extremely well as a low moment. They threaten death and force the protagonist into desperate straits.

However, one other thing worth noting here is that the major change to a brand new setting this late in the story works very poorly—and the lack of framing and resonance (and the removal from the other established characters) makes the Third Act of this movie easily its weakest part.

Climax: Eric gains a gun and manages to escape the Germans. He races through Berlin, finds a German uniform, and parachutes back into England. He then discovers that one of the colonel’s friends is the head British mole—a man who promptly orders Ernie to be shot as a spy himself. This Climax does a good job in the sense that it ramps both the stakes and the activity to the hilt. But, again, its poorly chosen setting (from a storytelling perspective) weakens its force overall.

Climactic Moment: Ernie’s escape from execution is implied only. The true Climactic Moment is the capping of his relationship with Lady Margaret. When they reunite and kiss, the conflict the audience truly cares about finally ends.

Resolution: The movie gets away with very little Resolution thanks to its voiceover.

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