What looked at first like another PR blow to "Valkyrie," the twice-delayed Tom Cruise film based on the true story of a German officer who plotted to assassinate Hitler, turned out to be a case of mistaken photo identity.
A report posted on Slate.com last week suggested that United Artists had doctored a portrait of Claus von Stauffenberg to make it more closely resemble the "Top Gun" actor. One problem: The two images scrutinized in the story, posted June 17 under the heading "Tom Cruise Mystery: The case of the doctored publicity photo," didn't come from the same source.
David Plotz, the editor of Slate, said after the web magazine was contacted by The Associated Press that the conclusion of the article was wrong, and a correction was planned.
"We did not do the photo research that we should have done," Plotz said Tuesday evening.
United Artists released its side-by-side publicity portraits last year to draw attention to the resemblance between the real von Stauffenberg and Cruise. In the black-and-white images, Cruise and von Stauffenberg are each in a similar profile pose, wearing similarly blank expressions.
Slate's story, by contributor Kim Masters, compares the von Stauffenberg photo supplied by United Artists to an image from the photo archive of The Associated Press.
The posting includes commentary from two Slate designers and an overlay, created by a third designer, with the AP photo - lighter and bearing less resemblance to Cruise - atop the darker, more heavily contrasted image released by United Artists.
The report concludes that it "Looks like someone tweaked the photo. Finding out who may be mission: impossible."
The AP determined that its archived photo of von Stauffenberg is not the same image released by United Artists. That photo can be found, among other places, in a Getty Images database, credited to the Hulton Archive and dated circa 1943.
"We did not check other archival sources to be sure there was not another version of the photograph," Plotz said. "We don't know where UA got the photograph, but it's clear that in the Getty archive there's a version of the photo which they used."
United Artists said it acquired its version of the photo some time ago during research for the film, but could not be certain of its exact provenance, or how the studio came upon it.
"The picture United Artists used of Colonel Stauffenberg can be found all over the Internet," said "Valkyrie" co-writer and producer Chris McQuarrie in a written statement released by a United Artists spokeswoman Tuesday.
McQuarrie, who won a screenplay Oscar in 1995 for "The Usual Suspects," added that it would have been easier to "alter Tom Cruise" than to doctor "every available picture of Claus von Stauffenberg."
"Valkyrie" stars Cruise as the aristocratic army officer executed after a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. In April, United Artists pushed back the film's release date from Oct. 3 until February 2009, the second delay for the movie that was originally slotted for June.
The film, to be distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., is the second attempt by Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner to revive United Artists, in which Cruise owns a stake. The first, the terrorism thinkpiece "Lions for Lambs," was estimated to have lost about $30 million.