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The Ipcress File (1965)

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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 4
Fresh: 4 | Rotten: 0

audience

87

liked it
Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 6,196

My Rating

Movie Info

Reluctant British spy Harry Palmer has to deal with bureaucracy, brainwashing and lots of really cool camera angles while on a mission to rescue kidnapped scientist Dr. Radcliffe.

Oct 12, 1999

Universal Pictures

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All Critics (23) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (0) | DVD (10)

Ipcress proves again that one of the primal pleasures of moviegoing is a tingling, no-nonsense suspense yarn enlivened by honest good humor.

April 20, 2010 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Caine skillfully resists any temptation he may have had to pep up the proceedings. In fact, his consistent underplaying adds considerably to the pull of the picture.

March 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Deighton's plot is a mild headache of deceit and double-dealing that glides stylishly and with much wit around Caine's Sergeant Palmer, a cocky London bachelor and middle-ranking scion of the MoD's counter-espionage department.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Ipcress File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Check out the scene where Caine and Green discuss the merits of button mushrooms and you'll appreciate that, as the actors have an excellent grasp of character, so the screenwriters have a superb eye for detail.

April 20, 2010 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

The best part of the film is Caine's characterization.

April 20, 2010 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Embora inferior a Funeral em Berlim, que contaria com um roteiro melhor, o primeiro filme da série ainda funciona graças à direção de Furie, à atuação irônica de Caine e à forma curiosamente monótona com que o cotidiano da espionagem é retratado.

March 26, 2007
Cinema em Cena

Caine's the coolest anti-007 ever ...

December 8, 2006
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Caine, Zulu under his belt and Alfie ahead, is the cheeky working class but aspirational bright spark hero par excellence, captured at the exact moment he became a star.

April 1, 2006 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The coolest secret agent of them all

January 25, 2006
Atlantic City Weekly

Caine's star-quality and absolute ease in front of the camera are fully formed.

January 14, 2006 Full Review Source: Guardian
Guardian

Caine in his bespectacled prime...

January 10, 2006 Full Review Source: BBC.com
BBC.com

A vintage performance from Caine as anti-Bond Harry Palmer keeps this from becoming a period relic.

May 13, 2004
Nitrate Online

Offers a far more authentic view of the morally ambivalent world of espionage than most spy thrillers.

May 6, 2004 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Flashy direction, convoluted plot, great performances from Caine, Green, and Dole.

May 20, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Goofy fun, but hardly a classic. James Bond, you ain't got nothin'!

January 20, 2002 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

The Ipcress File is great fun because it's smart, realistic, and irreverent without being full of itself.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

Audience Reviews for The Ipcress File

Michael Caine's first outing as Harry Palmer is an iconic moment in cinema. The Ipcress File is so cool and stylised, it's what most people think of when they think of England in the 60's. Harry Palmer is kind of like the anti-James Bond, a more down to earth alternative anyway. I love the way the film is directed, each frame is at a different angle and every shot is composed brilliantly. It's a London I remember from my childhood, before they gave all the old buildings a good clean in the late 80's. The script is superb too and while the story is a little dated and seems a bit silly now, everything else is gold.
December 16, 2013
SirPant

Super Reviewer

Accompanying the development of the James Bond franchise is a series of 'anti-Bond' alternatives to 007. Alongside spoofs like Austin Powers and the original Casino Royale, there are a series of 'serious' or grittier films which offered an alternative to the increasingly silly, gadget-driven adventures of Ian Fleming's favourite son.

People of my generation will most probably think of the rivalry between Bond and Jason Bourne, with both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace taking many cues from the Paul Greengrass instalments. Go back a few decades and you have John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which examined the Cold War conflict through power struggles within the British secret service. But before Le Carré's spy came in from the cold (as played by Richard Burton), there was Len Deighton and his antihero Harry Palmer, which resulted in "the thinking-man's Goldfinger", The Ipcress File.

Although The Ipcress File was billed as a serious alternative to Bond, its relationship to the Bond series is a little more complicated. The film was produced by the same producer as Bond (Harry Saltzman), scored by the same composer (John Barry) and even designed by the same production designer (Ken Adam). You might think that the involvement of such people would mean that the film wouldn't set itself apart, but in fact it works entirely in its favour. There are enough common elements to bring in audiences and reassure them, so that when the departures come we are immediately more settled and willing to accept them.

The big departure of The Ipcress File is its emphasis on the humdrum nature of everyday spying. While Bond seems to do nothing but attend posh parties, travel to exotic locations and do death-defying stunts, Harry Palmer is introduced like an ordinary guy who just happens to be working for the British government. The opening section of the film is deliberately slow-paced, using Michael Caine's charisma to guide through the exposition where the mission is introduced, and subsequently to compensate for audience expectations of chase sequences and the like.

Much like the works of John Le Carré, the most consistent form of conflict in The Ipcress File is internal rather than external. The film focusses on the increasing bureaucracy of the secret service, with agents being forced to fill in lots of forms and write up all their "legwork". Being by the book is considered every bit as important as being right, as Palmer is reprimanded for not filling in the correct form when he orders the raid of the warehouse. Until the recent version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, this was one of the best depictions of government malaise ever seen on screen.

The monotonous nature of Palmer's life and the service that surrounds him is epitomised by the opening credits. Instead of a flashy pre-title sequence, with Sean Connery laying explosives and electrocuting someone in a bath, we get a series of shots of Michael Caine slowly getting up and making coffee, before going about his daily observations. Every part of the process is played out in clinical detail, so that the disappearance of the scientist just before the credits feels like just another job for him to handle. While modern spy films often start with a bang as well as ending with one, The Ipcress File has the confidence to start downbeat and remain so for some time.

The film also examines the arcane and awkward relationship between the secret service and the military. It is interesting that both Deighton and Fleming worked in military intelligence and yet only the former places any direct emphasis on the military in his writings. Both MI5 and MI6 were formed as joint initiatives between the Admiralty and the War Office, and so both carry a history of two organisations with shared ends fighting over the means, or vice versa.

Palmer is introduced as an ex-sergeant, drafted into the secret services to avoid going to prison due to his dealings on the black market. His insubordination stems equally from resentment of his treatment by the military and his frustration at not being able to use his other skills, such as gourmet cooking. Dalby is described as a "passed-over major", as if to imply that working for the secret service is an inferior means of serving one's country, rather than just an underhand one. There is also a contrast between the parochial nature of the British military and the ruthless Albanian soldiers who capture and torture Palmer in the final act.

The Ipcress File's greatest asset is the performance of Michael Caine. In his first genuine lead role, he gives a masterclass in understatement, constantly reining himself in and resisting the urge to lash out or show off until circumstances become desperate enough to do so. Bond producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli commented that Sean Connery "walked like a panther" when he left the audition for Dr. No., and there is a slight swagger to Caine's performance. But there is nothing in his face or still posture to give anything else away, and until the final reel he is the epitome of distant, disaffected cool.

Since Caine is the only actor to have played Harry Palmer, calling his performance the default feels like damning with very faint praise. But he is credited with actually naming the character, who in Deighton's original novels is anonymous. The story goes that Caine was asked to think of the most boring names he could, and came out with Harry and a boy he went to school with called Tommy Palmer. It's an interesting little piece of trivia which reinforces the fact that Caine knew the character inside out (or at least well enough to play him in four more films).

For much of its running time, The Ipcress File is very gently paced. It's difficult to call it a thriller since for a long time it doesn't feel the need to get on with matters. But this all changes in the last 20 minutes when the film really shows its gritty edge and all the different characters become fatally intertwined. Even for audiences who have grown up with 'torture porn', or seeing Daniel Craig beaten with a rope in Casino Royale, the torture scenes are really tense and as painful as they should be.

This sequence really hammers home the departures The Ipcress File makes from the spy thriller norm. Watching Bond confront his enemies was like watching the Batman TV series: you knew that no matter how dangerous or devious their schemes, he wouldn't have much trouble getting out alive. There's no such element of certainty here, where Palmer is dragged from his cell every time he tries to fall asleep and repeatedly tortured with the IPCRESS technique. The technique is actually based in fact, resembling the 'psychic driving' technique tested by the CIA under MKULTRA.

The one aspect of The Ipcress File which occasionally lets it down is the direction. Sidney J. Furie's subsequent career left a lot to be desired, including an unofficial credit on The Jazz Singer remake and the utterly rubbish Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. While he does maintain tension pretty well, he doesn't have any of the free-flowing energy or panache that Ken Russell brought to the second sequel, Billion Dollar Brain. Many of his visual choices don't hold up, as the film resorts to off-putting Dutch angles on far too many occasions.

While it never captured the public imagination quite like its counterpart, The Ipcress File has aged surprisingly well among 1960s spy thrillers both on film and TV. Despite the slow-pacing and occasionally ham-fisted direction it still holds up as a very good antidote to the sillier end of spy fiction, laying the groundwork for the success of John Le Carré and ultimately for Jason Bourne. Above all it's a good, solid tense little thriller, with quite a bit to say and enough to entertain you while it says it.
June 21, 2012
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Before Jason Bourne and..... Before Harry Callahan and Popeye Doyle..there was Harry Palmer. Michael Caine made his first appearance as novelist Len Deighton's bespectacled British-spy Harry Palmer in the first of three movies based on this character,and "The Ipcress File" released in 1965 gave moviegoers an alternative to James Bond in director Sidney J, Furie brilliant espionage thriller that was one of the best of the "spy" genres that dominated the era. Caine unravels a sinister plot to brainwash British scientists in which his own insubordinate nature is his best weapon But the plots themselves are the reason why this film was at the top it's genre and it was an alternative to the James Bond films and other espionage thrillers of the 1960's. Shot and cut in brash,claustrophobic style,this thriller has a dash of 1940's hardboiled noir,while allowing Caine to flash enough suave to make the ladies squirm in their seats. Advertised as the thinking man's "Goldfinger","The Ipcress File" is regarded as a darker version with more violent and harsher overtones.
April 26, 2012
rayman0071
Mister Caple

Super Reviewer

At the rise of the 007 mania, and the effervescence of the swingin' sixties and the new wave, square secret service agent Harry Palmer was born.
Most of the same people who gave life to Fleming's spy; including John Barry, Ken Adam and many more; had their hands in this, his antithesis. A myopic, expert cook who has to deal with uninteresting tasks of surveillance and piles of paper to fill; thick cockney accents; rigid bureaucratic bosses; and some other dirty businesses going on behind his back.
Director Sidney J. Furie injects angular, lavish and noirish camera work; and the old chap Michael Cain is always efficient.
October 14, 2008
pier007

Super Reviewer

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