THE IPCRESS FILE (1965 Britain)

14634d207d5892fefe592b68c23fc64dWhen I first watched this I was half disappointed. Can’t remember why, but at a guess I’d say I was expecting something more glossy. Now I would hate for this film to be “glossy”. It is what it is. And it improves with repeat viewing.

You get to see here, for the first time, the master-servant relationship between the handlers and the operatives in the spy world. And it isn’t very pretty. Western viewers at the time began to think perhaps our spies were quite similar to the Soviet ones after all. Maybe James Bond is just a fantasy….

England is suffering from a severe case of “brain drain” as its top scientists keep disappearing. Sounds like a job for James Bond? He’s not real enough. Enter Harry Palmer, a spy to be sure as we watch him watching his assignment through binoculars. A ladies man to be sure, since he definitely has an eye for bird watching.

The spy world of Harry Palmer is a bureaucratic labyrinth of pencil pushers, endless paperwork, and monotony. Harry is indeed a clever spy, but was recruited into the organization because of his criminal background and the threat of being sent back into prison is dangled above his head by superiors. Harry’s curls his lip up at authority. He is also devious, but these qualities make him unpredictable and in an organization filled with straight-laced bureaucrats, he’s a wild card in their favour.

Guy+Doleman+%2B+Nigel+Green+-+Ipcress+File+%281965%29+officers+clubAnd so Harry’s transferred from one department to another as a replacement for an agent who was found shot to death, a man who was afraid of cancer, while shadowing another of the country’s latest scientists. The Brits want him back and are willing to pay top dollar. Things get complicated when his old boss requests a classified file containing a section of audio tape that Harry had recovered during an investigation, identified only by the name Ipcress.

Harry’s perceptive enough to realize that his own spy network might contain a double agent. When he presents his case before his new department head, he’s already a marked man, too hot to touch, and so is left out in the cold. THE IPCRESS FILE is the first of three films about the exploits of Harry Palmer. (the other two being Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967)) It is a deliberately slow paced, stylishly directed thriller that perfectly showcases Michael Cain’s subtle blend of arrogance, humour and vulnerability that he often brings to a performance.

Michael+Caine+-+Ipcress+File+%281965%29+libraryThis boasts innovative camerawork, constantly peeking from behind characters, around corners, angled shots looking up from the ground, never giving us a clear perspective of what’s going on. The same can be said when we see things from Harry’s perspective, slightly out of focus. It is curious that he wears glasses throughout the film to see things more clearly, but it is only when his glasses are removed that he sees things how they really are.

The film is complemented by an excellent score and catchy theme composed by the great John Barry. Spidery is one way to describe it. I’d recommend this to anyone in a ‘food for thought’/minimalist mood. You want to be entertained, but not in a dumbed down way. You want action, but realistically, with everything explained. As long as you don’t mind the old filing cabinets, old cars, old phones and dusty dry atmosphere of fifty years ago.

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