Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: THE IPCRESS FILE

IPCRESS FILE (1965)
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Writers: James Doran, W. H. Canaway
Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Guy Doleman, Nigel Green.

One of my favorite movies.

Sort of the “anti-Bond”, but made by the producers of the Connery films. Harry Palmer is The Spy Who Does Paperwork in this predecessor to THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. There is a form for everything - a form to get a gun, a form to fill out if you fire the gun... and if you manage to shoot someone? No end to the amount of paperwork! This is the *government* - it’s all about filling out forms. Forms for stake outs, forms to requisition a car, forms for *not* discovering any information. Harry hates paperwork, but he’s a genius at sifting through it for clues - to find an enemy agent with no known address, he checks for parking tickets.



The great thing about IPCRESS is that it makes the job of spying mundane - a bunch of boring stake outs and surveillance jobs - then it explodes with action that seems much bigger due to the contrast. The great Michael Caine plays Harry as a problem child who probably needed a good spanking many years ago and now knows *exactly* how far he can push authority before it pushes back. He uncovers a plot to kidnap British scientists, brainwash them until they spill all of their secrets, then wipe their memories clean so that they are unable to function. The cool thing about this 60s film is that it uses all of the real brainwashing devices from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which wasn’t made public until the 70s. How they knew about these things in this film, I do not know. Were there CIA leaks that ended up in (novelist) Len Deighton’s hands?

His boss, Colonel Ross (Doleman), hates him and has him transferred to Major Dalby’s department where he has to fill out stacks of paperwork as they try to find a kidnapped scientist who has been put up for auction by an espionage agent for hire code-name, BlueJay (Frank Gatliff) an Albanian who sells secrets... and people. Dalby (Nigel Green) “doesn’t have the sense of humor that Ross has” (which was none at all) and cracks the whip on Harry again and again. Harry finds a friend in team member Carswell (Gordon Jackson, from THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) and a love interest in team member Jean (Lloyd) - who may be a spy for Ross’s department. That’s the kind of paranoid movie this is - the spies are spying on other spies! Ross keeps trying to get Harry to hand over the file on Dalby's investigation, code named “Ipcress” because that word was written on a piece of audio tape found in an abandoned warehouse they think BlueJay was using. When they play the bit of audio tape, all they get are strange noises - what do they mean? To add to the paranoia, there’s a CIA Agent who is spying on Harry, and someone in one of the departments may actually be working for BlueJay. You can’t trust *anyone* in this film!

I love movies where intelligent guys get sent into the field, where they are clueless, and must fight to survive. Harry gets in so much trouble, and the story is so clever and twisted and has so many double and triple crosses that I can watch it again and again... oh, and it’s visually really really cool.

The director, Sidney J. Furie, comes up with the most inventive angles and shots I’ve ever seen - which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite movies. There is a whole fight scene shot through the glass of one of those red British phone booths - mullion coming between Harry and this huge bodyguard - and every other interesting combination of foreground and background is used to make the fight scene really interesting. Furie re-imagines action scenes as chess matches or tennis games and stages them in unusual ways. Because Harry wears glasses, the element of sight is used in both action scenes (when Harry’s glasses get stomped it changes the outcome of a fight) and other scenes (Harry with glasses off looks over a blurry crowd of scientists and sees a person who does not belong) - the glasses become part of the way the story is told.

Here is our introduction to Harry Palmer...



Other great visual elements include one of the greatest twist-reveals ever put on film, a shot through the keyhole of Harry’s flat of an intruder with a gun, a Polanskiesque shot where a door is opened to hide one character so that we focus on the other, the camera mounted on an armored car that batters down a door - we see it all POV, a Busby Berkeleyesque choreographed prisoner for money exchange in an underground parking garage with a deadly twist, the whole IPCRESS brain washing sequence - which includes an amazing Christ-symbolism bit where Harry jams a rusty nail into his palm to try to avoid the brainwashing, a multi-level following scene in a building, and an amazing ending where a brainwashed Harry must decide who to kill and who not to kill.

SPOILER: One of my favorite bits in the script is when BlueJay kidnaps Harry... and he wakes up in a crappy cell in some old industrial building, and BlueJay tells him that it would be pointless to try to escape, because he's in Albania. How can he get help if he does not speak Albanian? Where would he run to? He has no passport, no identification. Even if he escaped, he's still trapped in this foreign land. Then they proceed to brainwash him using the IPCRESS method... "Listen to me. Listen to me. You will forget the IPCRESS file, you will forget your name..." Harry jams that rusty nail into his palm, "My name is Harry Palmer. My name is Harry Palmer." But he loses the nail... and the brainwashing begins to work. That's when Harry decides to escape... running out of the old industrial building where all of the signs are in Albanian, to... Downtown London! He was never taken to Albania! The whole thing was a ruse to make him not try to escape! This is one of dozens of little story touches that make IPCRESS FILE a really cool movie.

A great clever screenplay coupled with great inventive direction and Michael Caine at the top of his game surrounded by a bunch of great British actors. Oh, and the musical score is one of John Barry’s best! They made two sequels in the 60s and a couple in the 90s (with an old Michael Caine) but the first one is the best. Check it out!

- Bill

3 comments:

ObiDonWan said...

thanks for the reminder about IPCRESS FILE. Haven't seen it since original release, but strangely I remember that coffee-making scene...since I wasn't familiar with the French Press thingy. And the nail-in-the-palm. Gosh, I gotta see it again.

Sose said...

Where can I find a copy of the script? Just ordered the blue ray of Ipcress after seeing Billion Dollar Brain.

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