The 1965 film starring Michael Caine, Guy Doleman and Nigel Green is the quintessential British espionage film from the 1960s. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, a Canadian film director who has made over 40 films, some of which are the Iron Eagle films, Superman IV and Purple Hearts in the 1980s and American Soldiers in 2005, The Ipcress File is an adaptation of Len Deighton's best selling 1962 spy novel.
It is a cracking film that showcases Michael Caine in his second leading role (he starred in Zulu the year before and would go on to do Alfie the year after) as Harry Palmer, a cockney army sergeant who chooses to work for the British secret service instead of going to jail for his side business in Berlin while stationed there. Shot in the 1960s British new wave style as an opposition to the slick James Bond franchise, There are tight close ups and iconic angled camera views that put the viewer into the mind set of a participant rather than an omnipotent watcher of traditional movies.
The counterculture is extended to the music in the film. John Barry creates an antithesis to his work on the Bond films using jazz solos, bongos and compressed strings to give the film a noirish feel to it. It is a great soundtrack and not something done often in movies any more. Off the top of my head the last time a soundtrack is used in a similar way to evoke the atmosphere in such a dominant way is Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive (2011).
There is a challenge to authority throughout this movie and not just because that is the main characteristic of Harry Palmer, but as a reflection of the 1960s counterculture that was beginning to emerge in Britain at the time. The patriotism and national identity of Britain molded by World War 2 is beginning to erode in the new world order as the cold war reveals the ever decreasing importance of Britain on the world stage, especially in relation to the USA. What is essential is that Harry Palmer is working class, something that goes in the face of British espionage films where the hero speaks in clipped BBC tones from a posh public school. He was the new breed of hero and Michael Caine was just the man to portray him.
There are two sequels to this film in the 1960s and two more 30 years later, all starring Michael Caine. They are a very different beast to James Bond, but no less influential. The Ipcress File is essential viewing of 1960s British cinema.