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Ipcress File, The (1965)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Ipcress File, The (1965)
35mm, colour, Techniscope, 109 mins
DirectorSidney J. Furie
Production CompanySteven S.A.
 Lowndes Productions
ProducerHarry Saltzman
ScreenplayBill Canaway
 James Doran
Original novelLen Deighton
PhotographyOtto Heller

Cast: Michael Caine (Harry Palmer); Nigel Green (Major Dalby); Guy Doleman (Major H.L. Ross); Sue Lloyd (Jean Courtney); Gordon Jackson (Jock Carswell); Aubrey Richards (Radcliffe); Frank Gatliff (Bluejay); Thomas Baptiste (Barney); Oliver MacGreevy (Housemartin)

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Secret agent Harry Palmer exposes a double agent sabotaging the work of British scientists.

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In November 1962, shortly after the release of Dr. No (d. Terence Young, 1962), Len Deighton's spy novel The Ipcress File was published to enormous critical acclaim and brisk sales. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli approached Deighton to script the next Bond film From Russia with Love (d. Young, 1963). Although little of his work was used, Saltzman eventually decided to use Deighton's novel, and its sequels, as the basis for a new series of spy movies.

The Ipcress File (d. Sidney J. Furie, 1965) was designed to be in direct contrast to the Bond adventures, although Saltzman ended up employing much of the same production staff, including production designer Ken Adam, editor Peter Hunt and composer John Barry. Superficially, there are many similarities, even to the extent of beginning the film with a dramatic pre-credit sequence. Like Bond, the hero is clearly his own man, has a taste for fine foods and is popular with women, and even carries a non-standard-issue weapon. But the similarities end there. The protagonist, named Harry Palmer in the film (the book's narrator is anonymous), wears spectacles, shops in a supermarket (still a novelty in 1965) and is a sergeant working off a two-year sentence for black market activities in Berlin.

Deighton took the Ian Fleming spy formula and grafted on the anti-authority attitude, first person narration and wisecracking dialogue of the 1930s and '40s hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Director Sidney J. Furie and cinematographer Otto Heller adopted an equivalent visual style, using distorting lenses, unusual angles and high contrast photography. Essentially they used the noir style of 1940s Hollywood thrillers to tell a story set in 1960s swinging London. In addition, Furie and Heller took their cue from Palmer's poor eyesight. The camera is often out of focus, or shoots through objects, such as a pair of cymbals, lampshades, a parking meter and even a keyhole, creating a visually abstract world that contrasts with the otherwise gritty and realistic look of the film.

Although he had already played a supporting role in Zulu (Cy Enfield, 1964) and had appeared in a few other films, Michael Caine's career really took off with his starring role in Ipcress. He would reprise the role of Harry Palmer in two interesting though inferior sequels, Funeral in Berlin (d. Guy Hamilton, 1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (d. Ken Russell, 1967).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. MOD briefing (2:52)
2. Mr Grantby (3:58)
3. Empty warehouse (2:14)
4. IPCRESS explained (2:11)
Original Poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Quiller Memorandum, The (1966)
Adam, Ken (1921-)
Baptiste, Thomas (1936-)
Barry, John (1933-2011)
Caine, Michael (1933-)
Heller, Otto (1896-1970)
Jackson, Gordon (1923-1990)