The Ipcress File (1965)
The Ipcress File (1965)

Genre: Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: August 2nd, 1965 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Sidney J. Furie Actors: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Aubrey Richards, Frank Gatliff, Oliver Macgreevy




young Michael Caine plays Sergeant Harry Palmer, the kind of man who slouches like a pregnant camel when appearing before his superior, prefers dry sarcasm with his conversations, takes pride in being considered an insubordinate trickster, and wears black, thick-rimmed glasses. His service with British Intelligence was an alternative to prison, having been made into an example for getting caught profiting off the Germans in black market dealings. He’s given a new assignment as a replacement security escort, which is something slightly more exciting than his usual observation jobs. The change in position includes a small pay increase, the issuing of a Colt .32, and supervision by Major Dalby (Nigel Green), a man even more straight-laced than Palmer’s previous, humorless boss, Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman). Clearly overqualified, every action taken by the agent requires extensive paperwork and bureaucratic regulations, numbing the effectiveness of Palmer’s streetwise skills.

When distinguished scientist Dr. Radcliffe is kidnapped, Dalby’s division is handed the case. Eric Ashley Grantby, code name Bluejay (Frank Gatliff), is the likely ringleader behind the nabbing, and will inevitably sell the hostage to the highest bidder. On a hunch, Palmer orders a raid that produces nothing but a damaged audiotape marked with the name IPCRESS. When the team finally succeeds in making a trade for Radcliffe, who appears to be brainwashed, Palmer accidentally kills a CIA agent tail and must contend with heat from the Americans. He’s in a sticky situation – neither side is particularly interested in his wellbeing, and when a second American spook is dispatched, he’s surely being framed for murder.

Palmer finds Bluejay almost immediately, which ends in violence and two very impressive, faraway shots that are out of the range of sound, which gives them a curiously thrilling uniqueness. Although it was released in 1965, the cinematography and camerawork is surprisingly contemporary, with handheld shots, unique angles from inside tight spaces or voyeuristically just outside the circle of action, and gritty locales, not terribly unlike “The French Connection,” released six years later. Wrapped up in the compelling intricacies of counter espionage and the harboring of a shady past that guarantees distrust amongst associates, the design of the characters is a decidedly gloomier take on international, undercover agent portraits.

Described as a sexpionage, though completely devoid of onscreen sex, “The Ipcress File” is comparable to a James Bond picture (linked doubly by sharing composer John Barry and producer Harry Saltzman), except that Palmer is a more British and more realistic version of the superspy. He’s equally talented when it comes to the fairer sex and quite the gourmet, but not as prone to daredevilry or bedding record numbers of women. Additionally, the focus is generally on drama and mystery as opposed to action, as if Palmer is the less expensive version of Bond – and “The Iprcess File” chronicles the activities 007 might undertake in between saving the world in an outrageous display of stunts. A better comparison could be made with “The Manchurian Candidate,” especially considering the subplot of mind control.

Light humor also makes its way into the film, smartly avoiding total tongue-in-cheek methods while still providing the occasional smirk. Caine’s charisma is unquestionable, as is his acting, owning the character like he created it himself. The pacing isn’t speedy, evidently more concerned with letting the roles develop fully, but the intrigue builds nonetheless through methodically surmounting mysteries that compound to a clever climax. Based on Len Deighton’s novel, “The Ipcress File” went on to win the BAFTA award for Best British Film, Cinematography, and Art Direction, and was met with commercial successes as well, prompting Caine to reprise his role in two immediate sequels within the next two years (“Funeral in Berlin” and “Billion Dollar Brain”). Almost three decades later, he played Harry Palmer again in two additional films (“Bullet to Beijing” and “Midnight in Saint Petersburg”), though they are widely regarded as low points in his career.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10