Total Recall: Liars, Hoaxers, and Frauds

With The Words hitting theaters this week, we run down some noteworthy films featuring imposters and fabulists.

Liars and Hoaxers

In this weekend's The Words, Bradley Cooper plays a struggling young writer who stumbles across a terrific unpublished manuscript and makes the fateful decision to pass it off as his own -- an impulsively dishonest act that brings him the career success he's dreamed of, but triggers major consequences along the way. Of course, Cooper's character isn't the first to pretend to be something he isn't -- and with that in mind, we decided to dedicate this week's list to some of the many noteworthy plagiarists, imposters, liars, and frauds from films of the past. Lock up your valuables and don't believe everything you're told, because it's time for Total Recall!

Catch Me if You Can

96%

In his long and incredible career as a master fraud and forger, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. managed to pass himself off as a teacher, doctor, lawyer, and airplane pilot -- and pass millions of dollars in phony checks while he was at it. It's the kind of story that could play as a horribly sad drama, but with Catch Me if You Can, Steven Spielberg used it as the basis for a light (and thoroughly entertaining) caper in which Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) dashes from con to con while striking up a bizarre long-distance friendship with the FBI agent who's doggedly pursuing him (Tom Hanks). The end result, wrote John Anderson for Newsday, is "A very adult, very funny, very well-acted daydream that should delight just about anyone who's ever been asked for picture ID."

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The Hoax

85%

A sort of spiritual cousin to this week's big movie, The Hoax dramatizes the real-life adventures of struggling author Clifford Irving, who cooked up an audacious million-dollar scheme to pass off his own forgeries as the authorized memoirs of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. It sounds like a ridiculous way to get yourself sent to prison rather than the basis for a Richard Gere movie, but Irving almost pulled it off -- and that's what makes The Hoax such gripping stuff. Saying it "never wanders too far from its pitiful but somehow joyously deceitful center," Tom Long of the Detroit News applauded Gere for capturing "the sheer electricity of a man who, even for only a few moments, seems to have made reality play by his rules."

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The Imposter

95%

Some of the best documentaries are the ones that persuasively demonstrate that truth really can be stranger than fiction. Case in point: The Imposter, which details the unsettling tale of Frédéric Bourdin, the French con man who impersonated a missing 13-year-old boy and went to live with his family, despite a number of telling differences between them. Bourdin was eventually forced to confess, thanks to the dogged efforts of a private investigator, but that's only one dark chapter in a terribly disturbing -- and still unsolved -- true story. "The Imposter emerges as a brilliantly slippery film that demands brain-stretching consideration. Astonishing, indeed," wrote the Irish Times' admiring Donald Clarke.

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Just One of the Guys

40%

Good journalists stop at nothing to get their big scoop -- even if they happen to be high school students, and researching the story means illicitly transferring to a new campus and pretending to be a boy. Witness Just One of the Guys, the mid-1980s teen cross-dressing comedy starring Joyce Hyser and an eclectic supporting cast that included Ayre Gross, Sherilyn Fenn, and -- as was required by law in 1985 -- Billy Zabka. While many critics thought Guys was too shallow and unbelievable to prove its own point, others were too busy yukking it up to care -- like Nikki Tranter of PopMatters, who wrote, "Just One of the Guys is worth repeated viewing, especially for Hyser's hilarious and charismatic performance."

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Mata Hari

57%

Whether she was truly a German spy who caused the death of more than 50,000 soldiers or simply an exotic dancer who attracted the wrong kind of attention is still up for scholarly debate -- but either way, Mata Hari's story is a fascinating one, and it proved solid grist for this loose biopic, which made a million dollars in 1931 and ultimately proved to be Greta Garbo's signature film. "Miss Garbo may not be any more like Mata Hari, whose real name was Margaret Zelle MacLeod, than the film narrative is like an authentic account of the spy's career," admitted Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times. "There is, however, in the skillfully arranged series of incidents enough truth to make a most compelling melodrama."

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Comments

Dave J

Dave J

Great list but how about these "The Sting" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley"!

Sep 5 - 04:34 PM

Dave J

Dave J

And what RT fail to mention is that "Sommersby" is also a remake of 1982 "The Return Of Martin Guerre"!

Sep 5 - 04:39 PM

Dave J

Dave J

Some more "possible" honorable mentions : "The Fastest Gun Alive", "A History Of Violence", "The Astronaut's Wife", 1964 "Dead Ringer", "The Departed" or "Infernal Affairs", "The Lady Eve", "Hail, The Conquering Hero", "Donnie Brasco", "Ghost Writer", "Shadow Of A Doubt", "Leap OF Faith", "Elmer Gantry","The Man Who Never Was", "The Count Of Monte Cristo", "Kageshuma: Shadow Warrior", "Matchstick Men", "Catfish" etc...Discuss this among yourselves!

Sep 5 - 05:24 PM

gmkenney

Jerry Kenney

This is an impressive list, but let's not overlook "The Great Imposter" (1961) with Tony Curtis as Ferd DeMara; it is almost a model for "Catch Me If You Can."

Sep 7 - 06:22 AM

Dave J

Dave J

I have neither seen nor heard about that one before perhaps that's why it's not on here, but appreciate for bringing it to my attention because now I can go and look out for it!

Sep 7 - 11:57 AM

Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop

Liar Liar?

Sep 5 - 04:36 PM

Dave J

Dave J

And what RT fail to mention is that "Sommersby" is also a remake of 1982 "The Return Of Martin Guerre"!

Sep 5 - 04:39 PM

Dominic Lennard

Dominic Lennard

The Talented Mr. Ripley is fabulous, and to me the most tensely involving film about a liar, hoax or fraudster. Speaking of Damon, The Informant! (2009) is worth a mention here too.

Sep 5 - 04:51 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I was thinking "The Informant" too, but that may be a bit of a spoiler.

Sep 6 - 06:37 PM

Martin Retter

Martin Retter

Nice list! Just saw "Bernie" with Jack Black, would fit well into this list aswell. And "Stander" is a pretty unknown film too. Give it a watch!

Sep 5 - 05:21 PM

Dave J

Dave J

Some more "possible" honorable mentions : "The Fastest Gun Alive", "A History Of Violence", "The Astronaut's Wife", 1964 "Dead Ringer", "The Departed" or "Infernal Affairs", "The Lady Eve", "Hail, The Conquering Hero", "Donnie Brasco", "Ghost Writer", "Shadow Of A Doubt", "Leap OF Faith", "Elmer Gantry","The Man Who Never Was", "The Count Of Monte Cristo", "Kageshuma: Shadow Warrior", "Matchstick Men", "Catfish" etc...Discuss this among yourselves!

Sep 5 - 05:24 PM

gmkenney

Jerry Kenney

This is an impressive list, but let's not overlook "The Great Imposter" (1961) with Tony Curtis as Ferd DeMara; it is almost a model for "Catch Me If You Can."

Sep 7 - 06:22 AM

Dave J

Dave J

I have neither seen nor heard about that one before perhaps that's why it's not on here, but appreciate for bringing it to my attention because now I can go and look out for it!

Sep 7 - 11:57 AM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

In all honesty, a list of this that doesn't include Orson Welles' "F for Fake" is, in a word, fraudulent.

Sep 5 - 06:51 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

This! I thought Richard Gere was horrible as Clifford Irving, and watch the real Irving in this shows why. He was never as charming as Gere made him out to be.

Sep 6 - 06:39 PM

Dave Weisbord

Dave Weisbord

Finally - someone got it right!

Sep 7 - 03:12 PM

Zach Miller

Zach Miller

Mrs Doubtfire? Maybe not, but definitely Ocean's franchise with everyone playing someone their not.

Sep 5 - 07:14 PM

This comment has been removed.

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Bale's observations about the old Asian magician pretty much sums up the movie.

Sep 6 - 06:40 PM

Andy Baker

Andy Baker

What about 1992's "Olivier, Olivier" ?? Amazing film by Agneszika Holland !!

Sep 5 - 10:12 PM

John C.

John Casey

>_> What happened to I Love You Philip Morris? That's another tale of one of America's great con men.

Sep 5 - 10:24 PM

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