Michael Caine stars as Harry Palmer, an Army sergeant detailed to a Ministry of Defence counter-espionage unit. Palmer's file describes him as "insubordinate, insolent, a tricker, with perhaps criminal tendencies." In regard to the "criminal" label, Palmer's superior, Colonel Ross, recruited him from an army brig. However, Palmer is far from a two-bit hoodlum. He is an intelligent man with a taste for gourmet food, an ear for classical music, and an eye for the ladies.
|Palmer undergoes brainwashing.|
If The Ipcress File were a Hitchcock movie, then the mysterious audio tape would be the film's "MacGuffin." It's what propels the plot, even though it's not really that interesting once we learn its purpose. In fact, the plot just serves as a framework for the characters, their interactions, and an inside look at the "real world" of spying. The Ipcress File convinces us that spying isn't about fast cars, gadgets, and globe-hopping secret agents. It's about digging through files, conducting mundane surveillance, following suspects, and misleading people.
|The hero is nameless in the novels.|
|Jean (Sue Lloyd) in Harry's apartment.|
Sidney J. Furie's direction has been the source of much discussion among the film's fans. Furie's penchant for bizarre camera angles caused clashes with the traditional Saltzman during the production. I can see what Furie wanted to achieve--by having his camera peer through nooks and crannies, he essentially allowed the viewer to spy upon the spies. However, like Saltzman, I found some of his shots and framing too distracting.
Michael Caine returned as Harry Palmer in two theatrical sequels. Funeral in Berlin (directed by Goldfinger's Guy Hamilton) is as good as, if not better than, The Ipcress File. Unfortunately, the next film in the series, Billion Dollar Brain (1967), is a disaster with typically over-the-top direction from Ken Russell and a comic book villain played by Karl Malden. After a three-decade break, Caine returned as Harry Palmer in two made-for-cable features: Bullet to Beijing (1995) and Midnight in Saint Petersburg (1996). Guy Doleman, Oscar Homolka, and Sue Lloyd appear in some of the sequels.