books/films about impostors
July 26, 2016 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend books or films about impersonation, undercover spies, con artists, etc. along the lines of Catch Me If You Can, The Likeness, and The Talented Mr. Ripley? Bonus points for forgery!

I'm not necessarily looking for stuff about people who do impressions of others, or about people who go undercover or temporarily assume another identity (this happens pretty frequently in detective shows/stories).

What I'm really looking for are stories where one person assumes another person's identity long-term, either for good purposes (in The Likeness by Tana French, one of my very favorite novels, the narrator assumes a murder victim's identity and goes to live with the victim's housemates to find out who killed her) or bad (in The Talented Mr. Ripley, the narrator assume someone else's identity for his own gain).

I am currently combing through this Wikipedia list of impostors but would appreciate some guidance.

Bonus if the book/film includes forgery, especially handwriting forgery, which is another odd interest of mine!

Fiction, nonfiction, and stuff based on nonfiction (Catch Me If You Can) welcome! Thanks!
posted by wintersonata9 to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this is good fit but "Use of Weapons" by Iain Banks. Though telling you that is kind of spoilerish.
posted by KaizenSoze at 10:51 AM on July 26, 2016

Color Me Kubrick, about a Stanley Kubrick impostor who looked nothing like Stanley Kubrick and knew next to nothing about him or his work!
posted by kapers at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2016

Best answer: One of my favourites in this vein is Double Star by Heinlein. (Read the Wikipedia plot summary at risk of being spoiled, of course.)
posted by 256 at 11:01 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Adversary.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:05 AM on July 26, 2016

Here is a fun little list of historical figures. Note in particular #6, Yemelyan Pugachev. The entry here is highly abbreviated (and wrong in at least one detail, he looked nothing like Peter III) but it's worth reading about him - Pugachev's story is absolutely bonkers. Basically, he led a massive peasant revolt against the government of Catherine the Great of Russia, claiming to be her deposed husband Peter III (Peter was dead by this time so who was to argue?) What this article, and most articles about Pugachev, fail to mention is that not only did he pretend to be Peter III, but he created around him an entire fake "court" of peers who named themselves after various noblemen and women, dressed themselves up, addressed each other as Count, Countess etc. It's a very weird story.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:05 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Chameleon is so effing freaky, as is the true story behind it (and I believe they also made a documentary about this case). Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is also quite fun.
posted by Brittanie at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, I just saw My Friend Rockefeller about the notorious Clark Rockefeller, and it was really intriguing!
posted by xingcat at 11:16 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: F for fake, most of the movie is about an art forger. It's also Orson welles and it's a very interesting watch.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:17 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, and then Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree, which references it.
posted by dizziest at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

FAKE! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time. Fascinating stuff. Orson Welles does a whole segment on the guy in his doc F For Fake, and Snap Judgment did an episode on him that gave me goosebumps.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:21 AM on July 26, 2016

Best answer: Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (NYT book review) checks for long-term identity theft and forgery for bad purposes.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:22 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In a very complicated way...Daniel O'Malley's The Rook.

A woman working for the UK's supernatural version of MI5 is attacked and left with amnesia, so she has to resume her regular life without letting on that she doesn't remember who she is. Essentially she is a cipher who has to assume her own previous identity, about whom she knows very little--aside from the clues she finds here and there.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:24 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Chameleon Street. Supposedly based on an actual person
Europa Europa
The Counterfeiters is not a movie about assumed identities, but is about forgers. Also based on actual events.
posted by adamrice at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2016

The Return of Martin Guerre, both the book and the movie.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:35 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ferdinand Waldo Demara, The Great Imposter (film & book), David Hampton, the young man who impersonated Sidney Poitier's son and conned a lot of wealthy New Yorkers, immortalized by David Guare in the play & film Six Degrees of Separation. Rachel Dolezal, who conned everyone into believing she was JT Leroy - there's a new documentary coming out about her, Author: The JT LeRoy Story.
posted by ljshapiro at 11:40 AM on July 26, 2016

Art forgeries
posted by TheRaven at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2016

Best answer: Sommersby with Richard Gere and Jodi Foster
posted by soelo at 11:49 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, I just saw My Friend Rockefeller about the notorious Clark Rockefeller

Anti-rec for Walter Kirn's book about him, which was a thorough-goingly unpleasant experience.
posted by praemunire at 11:54 AM on July 26, 2016

Best answer: The Imposter, a documentary about a French con-artist who impersonates a missing kid in Texas, boggled my mind.
posted by rivtintin at 11:55 AM on July 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The Best Offer (Netflix)
posted by invisible ink at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jeff Beck, holy cow, did that story tickle my funny bone! The link is to a review of a book about him, but I think I first read the story in the Wall Street Journal.
posted by janey47 at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2016

MI-5 had a storyline spanning an entire season where one character was gradually revealed to have been an impostor. Seasons 8-9 are the relevant ones.
posted by culfinglin at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2016

Nthing F for Fake which isn't just about an art forger but really a philosophical work on the relationship between art and truth.
posted by dis_integration at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2016

There’s a plotline in Mad Men that fits the bill here.

Some of John Le Carré’s books are about temporary (but still long-term) secret lives, and the hollowing psychological effects of such a life. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a favorite of mine (book and movie are both great).

Nthing the various versions of the Frédéric Bourdin story (The Imposter, etc.). The David Grann article about him in The New Yorker (from 2008) is a hell of a read.
posted by miles per flower at 1:10 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters, does this wonderfully. No spoilers.
posted by mochapickle at 1:21 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Abbas Kiarostami's Close Up is a documentary(ish) about a man who impersonates a famous Iranian film director.
posted by Chenko at 1:50 PM on July 26, 2016

Best answer: The Goldfinch
posted by brookeb at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
posted by orange swan at 2:24 PM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Kurosawa's excellent movie Kagemusha involves an imposture.
posted by monotreme at 2:36 PM on July 26, 2016

Seconding the David Grann article about Bourdin. One of the most grimly fascinating things I've ever read in my life.
posted by delight at 3:33 PM on July 26, 2016

Len Deighton's novel City of Gold, set in WWII Cairo, begins with a soldier charged with killing his commanding officer being escorted to a military prison by a military police detective. When the detective has a heart attack, the prisoner switches identities with him. The prisoner, our protagonist, then must solve a series of mysteries in wartime Egypt. Sometimes the author in his other works can be a little cold and clinical, but this is rich evocative description, pulpy adventure, straightforward and one of his more enjoyable novels.
posted by seasparrow at 3:38 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have recommended before and will recommend again, I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich, which has been made into a movie at least twice.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:30 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The TV serieses White Collar AndBurn Notice touch on this a bit.

I'd suggest Matchstick Men and Moon (Yes really) for this as well.
posted by tilde at 5:04 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

My Kid Could Paint That
posted by bq at 5:50 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The truly excellent HBO documentary, The Jinx, reveals one of the creepiest real-life impersonations I've ever heard of.
posted by invisible ink at 6:04 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Sting, a fantastic movie in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman team up to con Robert Shaw!
posted by carlypennylane at 6:35 PM on July 26, 2016

Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman.
posted by BWA at 7:46 PM on July 26, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you for all the replies so far! I am adding a ton of these to my TBR/TBW list.

miles per flower - I loved that subplot of Mad Men and stopped watching pretty much after they stopped talking about it. :P

mochapickle - I *just* started reading Sarah Waters about a year ago and adoooooooored Fingersmith. I wish I could find more books like it, and more authors like SW. Any recs?

brookeb - The Goldfinch is another of my all-time favorites! Donna Tartt is right up there with Sarah Waters in my top 5 favorite authors for writing style, characterization, breathtaking plot twists, and morally grey characters. Anything else like The Goldfinch that you'd recommend?

Other things I entirely forgot to mention that I enjoy:
* Sherlock Holmes! I have listened to about 3/4 of the stories and two of the novels on audiobook, and wish that the short stories with plotlines like "it turns out X was really Y, who escaped from prison 25 years ago and blah blah blah" were longer and more in-depth, and not just explained in the last three pages of the story.

* all things Poirot! I have seen every episode of the David Suchet series at least 4-5 times (if not more) and particularly like the episodes featuring impersonation, including "Hercule Poirot's Christmas," "Dead Man's Folly," "Lord Edgware Dies" a.k.a. "Thirteen at Dinner," "After the Funeral," etc. etc. etc.

Keep 'em coming, please! :)
posted by wintersonata9 at 11:51 AM on July 27, 2016

The Scapegoat, might fill your bill.
Also The Americans - two Russian spies posing as a nice suburban couple.

Also if you want to go down the comedic route you might check out...
The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels.
posted by brookeb at 10:58 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I *just* started reading Sarah Waters about a year ago and adoooooooored Fingersmith. I wish I could find more books like it, and more authors like SW. Any recs?

She's so great, isn't she? So obviously Affinity, also by Sarah Waters, is next if you haven't read that already. :)

You might also really like Atonement, by Ian McEwan, which I always recommend to death here. And The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. These books don't necessarily follow your imposter theme, but they do let the reader question their understanding of events in a clever way, so they are very satisfying.
posted by mochapickle at 1:36 PM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and maybe Sleeping with the Enemy.
posted by freezer cake at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2016

« Older Help me park in Montreal   |   Name radically multi-POV news aggregator Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.