When I reviewed Cars 2 (2011) a couple of days ago, I pondered how Michael Caine would have gone if he had ever gotten the role of James Bond. The role of Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965), as well as four later films, was probably the closest Caine ever got.
There is a lot of shared DNA between the Bond films and The Ipcress File. Both were based on spy fiction by British authors, this film on the work of Len Deighton. This film also came out of a lot of the same production minds behind the Bond series – Harry Saltzman, Charles Kasher, Peter R. Hunt, Ken Adam and even composer John Barry. These folks were clearly trying to replicate the success that they were having with the Bond films. Just like the early James Bond films (and more overtly the novels), The Ipcress File has a very Cold War focused sensibility about it, with the main plot focused on the defection or suspected defection of top British scientists to the bad guys. It also has a great sense of humour running through it, which thankfully is a little more underplayed than a Bond punfest.
You can definitely sense the influence of the Bond films and production crew on this feature. John Barry’s score in particular is very reminiscent of his work on the Bond films. Which is no shame, because his work on that most iconic of film series’ is no doubt the strongest in its 50 year history. But in other ways, The Ipcress File is almost an anti-Bond film. For starters, rather than jumping all over the world, the film is basically all set in an extremely tense London. The feel of the setting is established very early and it doesn’t really let up the whole time, every shadow and corner seems to be hiding something. The focus here is on the gritty ‘reality’ of the espionage world rather than totally over the top fantasy. The character of Harry himself is also quite distinct from Bond. Whilst a hit with the ladies, Harry woos them wearing very thick glasses which he requires for his terrible eyesight. Bond’s physical imperfections are not exactly focused on. Palmer also has to deal suffer a number of idiotic bosses and is expected to do paperwork – can you imagine James Bond doing fucking paperwork? As for the question of how Caine would have cut it as Bond, the answer is pretty well… probably. As I have pointed out, they are very different characters. Caine definitely has the charisma but probably not the raw physicality of someone like a Sean Connery. Don’t get me wrong though, Caine really delivers the goods in this film, as he has in all of the films featured this week. He really is one of the greats.
The Ipcress File is a pretty fantastic piece of spy filmmaking with plenty of intrigue. It gets the balance right between obviously taking its cue from the James Bond films and also providing a whole heap of points of difference. It’s also not afraid to chuck in a pretty big and quite satisfying twist toward the end as well.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Don’t forget that you can win a copy of the book that this film is based on all this week on the blog. Details are here.