Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Ipcress File

The cold war is the setting for so many thrillers, indeed in the 70's and 80s it was very easy to spot the bad guy in a James Bond movie because he invariably spoke with a Russian accent or rather a classically trained British thespian's idea of a Russian accent. Steven Berkoff anyone? Today's flick of the day, The Ipcress File is a cut above the standard cold war spy thriller, indeed it was originally advertised as "The Thinking Man's Goldfinger".
Starring a very young Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, in the second of three film's he completed between 1964 and 1966 which made him an international star, the others being Zulu and Alfie. Palmer is very much not James Bond,  and this is outlined in the opening scenes as he struggles from bed, puts on his glasses and needs a strong cup of coffee before he can take on the day. He is in short an average male. The strength of Caine's performance is to give the character a barely concealed insolence and anti-authoritarian attitude which leads the audience to take his side. Caine's Palmer is reserved and elegant with a passion for cooking and music but with a cockney accent that indicates his working class roots.
The plot centres on the disappearance of a number of British scientists, as Palmer's superior puts it without irony, "a brain drain". Palmer is assigned by the head of his intelligence unit, Colonel Ross to work on the case  for Major Dalby. The latest scientist to go missing, a Dr. Radcliffe had in his possession a file which must be retrieved. Palmer is soon on the trail of an Albanian emigre who deals in kidnapped scientists. It becomes apparent that the scientists are being brainwashed and all is not as it seems. Palmer attempts to make a bargain for the missing Dr. Radcliffe but his superiors appear to be dealing behind his back and Harry is captured by the enemy. He has to escape and out the traitor who sold him out.
The brainwashing aside, this feels like a more realistic portrayal of cold war espionage then the usual suspects.  Harry Palmer is a workaday spy with no real interest in spying and makes for a compelling and endearing character. While not a patch on Alec Guinness portrayal of George Smiley in the BBC adaptation of Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, this is entertaining stuff. Caine is always watchable and director Sydney Furie makes good use of the cinematography to produce a pretty film, capturing 60's  London at its best.


Palmer: The fellow whose job I'm taking, will he show me the ropes? 
Major Dalby: Maybe - if you're in touch with the spirit world. 
Palmer: I beg your pardon? 
Major Dalby: He was shot this morning. 

All in all, not a bad yarn with a great performance from Michael Caine, showing why he became a star. Produced by Bond producer Harry Saltzman and with a score by John Barry, this is well worth a look.

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