The Ipcress File
Dir: Sidney J. Furie
Star: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd
Cert / Year: PG / 1965
Format: Video

Harry Palmer is a British intelligence agent with an attitude problem. This makes him a problem for his boss Colonel Ross, and so he is transferred to Major Dalby's counter-intelligence bureau. Here he is assigned the task of investigating the kidnapping of a number of scientists, and upon their return the loss of their ability to function. As he starts to get close to the truth he becomes a target, however he doesn't know who is out to get him. Unable to trust anyone around him his only answer is to find out the secret of the Ipcress file.

If you thought that the world of espionage was that of James Bond and consisted of nothing but tuxedos girls and gadgets then you are in for a shock when you watch any of the Harry Palmer movies. This is the real world of spying and it is not one of the super smooth lady killer spy but one of NHS glasses wearing bureaucracy laden government servant. Whereas Bond is always smooth and in control, Harry Palmer by contrast is angry and manipulated. It all makes for something far more realistic and much more gritty.

There are in fact three Harry Palmer films, The Ipcress File is the first and possibly the best. At the center of the film is a superb performance from a young Michael Caine. Fresh from success in his first major role in Zulu it was this film and his portrayal of Alfie in the film of the same name that cemented his position as a major leading actor. He brings a degree of bitterness and insubordination to the main character that is a refreshing change. That fact that he played the character so well it became an image that took him years to break free of.

The other lead chacrters are also perfectly cast. Nigel Green and Guy Doleman play his two bosses, both of whom are looking to control Palmer and use him as a pawn to get one over each other. Their differing styles and the power of the performances leave you guessing, just like Harry does, just who to trust. Sue Lloyd provides a bit of female interest, but it isn't long before even she is linked in to macinations of the two intellegence bosses. Unusually Harry's character doesn't pay much attention to her, chosing not to trust her (a change from the usuall romantic sub-plots). Lastly it is worth keeping an eye open for Gordon Jackson a man who would go on to play the boss of all spy bosses in The Professionals.

The most striking thing about the film is the unusual and inventive camera work. Each shot is framed in a very strange way. Low camera angles and foreground objects filling the screen make for some interesting viewing. Don't get me wrong it isn't distracting, rather the opposite in fact as it is very effective in drawing your attention to the complicated dialogue heavy script.

The Ipcress file is not an action packed spy adventure like James Bond. It is a taut gritty thriller. The way it treats its characters is rough to the point of brutal and this is anchored by a truly outstanding performance from Michael Caine. It brings a realistic script to screen via some inventive cinematography and so manages to hold the attention beautifully. Ok so a points it can be pedestrian and yes it has dated rather badly, but is deserves credit achieving a level of plot complexity that modern effects heavy films can only dream of.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home