In this noir spy thriller from 1965, Michael Caine is Harry Palmer, a London spy who uncovers a web of conspiracy when he’s tasked to track down kidnapped British scientists.
Like all good film noirs, this is an atmospheric piece, where you’re never sure who’s good and who’s bad. It moves from well-framed shot to well-framed shot as Palmer goes about his investigation and takes numerous unexpected turns along the way.
Much like other early Caine film Alfie I found the romantic aspects of the film tiresome. There’s rarely anything romantically appealing about Caine or his characters, so the females have to be written to be flat and boring enough to fall for his laboured clichés and artificial charm. The romantic scenes in this film are particularly corny, even if they are very much of the era.
Apart from this though it really is an outstanding spy thriller, with the grey scenery of London providing a perfect backdrop to Harry’s investigation, capturing the climate of suspicion in Cold War espionage. It follows a serious investigation, but never gets bogged down in le Carré-esque tedious detail.
The brilliant soundtrack further contributes to making this an all-round fantastically realised film. It goes beyond your typical spy thriller too, adding elements of A Clockwork Orange and even The Manchurian Candidate in how it develops, creating something more intriguing than it at first appears. While it stars out with the potential to become another “us vs them” film, like a more sober James Bond, it’s actually far more nuanced, questioning loyalty and allegiance rather than conforming to their demands.
I would advise you to watch it, but if I did I’d have to kill you.
The Ipcress File is on iPlayer until 19 September.