The Ipcress File was the first and best of the movie adaptations of Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer spy novels (although the character is never actually named in the books). It also gave Michael Caine his first starring role.
The idea was to make a kind of anti-Bond spy movie, something which caused problems with producer Harry Saltzman who was of course the producer of the Bond films. Len Deighton, along with John le Carré, had been responsible for launching spy fiction in a new, more cynical, direction and the movie captures the Deighton feel rather well.
Harry Palmer, with his glasses and Cockney accent, was a very different sort of movie spy, a spy of a type that would soon become as much of a cliché as Bond but in 1965 the idea was still fresh and exciting.
Harry lands himself in trouble when he accidently kills a CIA agent, and in even more trouble when he is captured by Grantby. Being captured proves to be very unpleasant but it does provide him with the clue as to who exactly is double-crossing whom.
He is well supported by a plethora of superb character actors, with Guy Doleman and Nigel Green being particularly outstanding. Sue Lloyd is the obligatory glamorous female spy, albeit a more interesting example of the species than most.
Director Furie was so unhappy with the script that the movie had to be shot in sequence since the script was being rewritten as it was filmed.
Despite these problems it all comes together perfectly. Furie’s idiosyncratic style results in a movie that feels radically different from any previous spy movie. His style is complemented by John Barry’s equally unconventional score.
This is a movie that can only be appreciated in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Even more than most movies The Ipcress File is simply not going to work when pan-and-scanned. Happily the Region 4 DVD presents the film in a good 16x9 enhanced transfer. In the past I’d only seen pan-and-scanned versions and seeing it presented properly is a revelation. There’s also an excellent commentary track featuring director Sidney J. Furie and editor Peter Hunt.
The Ipcress File is certainly quirky and takes stylistic risks but the end result is one of the best spy movies ever made. Very highly recommended.