Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Ipcress File

Having recently developed a penchant for espionage-related movies, I thought that I would check out The Ipcress File, the 1965 film based on the novel by Len Deighton, and starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer.

The first thing which I noticed about this movie was its aesthetic, which combined elements of Swinging London with the the dark and brooding world of espionage.  The latter is portrayed as clinical, austere and occasionally brutal.

Michael Caine can often come across as somewhat anodyne in his performances, but here he does manage to bring out some of the insolence and cynicism of the character.  Palmer was perhaps the quintessential man of his time (the 60s); rebellious, vaguely anti-establishment, self-confidence bordering on arrogance.

The plot does take a little while to "happen", with comparatively little in the way of exposition, but I was carried along by the tension, until things became clearer later in the film.  The gravity of the dialogue and the subject matter leads us to believe that something of great import is happening, but precisely what is not immediately apparent, or at least it wasn't to this viewer!  Much is left untold, leaving us the viewers to try to join the dots.  Repeated watching may shed further light on some of the intricacies.

It can be argued I think that this is not your straightforward, Cold War-orientated spy thriller, of which there was a surfeit around the time that The Ipcress File was released.  Although we eventually discover that the "double agent" phenomenon is at play here, this is something different again, more obscure perhaps.

The elements of mind-control, brainwashing and psychological experimentation which are detailed here are perhaps not as far-fetched or implausible as some might imagine, although towards the end there was almost a sense that espionage and science-fiction were overlapping.

Not until the final scene do many of the strands finally come together, and the supposed duplicity of the Dalby character is determined.  This closing scene is very gripping.

Not having read the novel myself, I am unable to comment on whether the film is faithful to the original story, but whatever the case, this is a very clever and mind-engaging piece of work, even if it is even harder work mentally than other movies of the genre.  The nature of the plot certainly punctured and defied some of my own pre-conceptions. A word also for John Barry's atmospheric music.

Well worth watching, and I am very tempted to seek out Len Deighton's novel.

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