Directed by Sidney Furie, starring Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd and Gordon Jackson.
Starring Michael Caine in his first lead role, 'The Ipcress File' was intended to be a more downbeat, realistic alternative to the James Bond films. It was released in 1965, the year which saw Sean Connery back on the big screen in his fourth Bond outing, the fantastical 'Thunderball'. Fresh from 'Thunderball', producer Harry Saltzman wasn't the only link between 'The Ipcress File' and the Bond franchise; editor Peter Hunt and production designer Ken Adam were also on board and the ominous, haunting score was composed by fellow Bond regular John Barry.
A bespectacled Caine plays Cockney spy Harry Palmer, a disgraced former army man working in London for the intelligence services. When another agent dies in the field, Palmer gets transferred to a unit investigating the disappearance of several top British scientists, under the stern Major Dalby (Green). Unlike the heroic Bond, Palmer is no competent commander in the British navy. There's a lovely moment when Dalby reads his personnel file: "Insubordinate! Insolent! A trickster. Perhaps with criminal tendencies. Well, that last one may just be put to good use."
Some scenes are very dated - the psychedelic brainwashing, especially - but the sly humour and wonderful dialogue of the film more than make up for it. Caine, cinema's first leading man to wear glasses, turns the sarcastic food-and-Mozart-loving Palmer into a memorable anti-hero. With the title role in the following year's 'Alfie' it's not surprising that he rocketed to stardom at this time.
Furie's stylish direction, with tight editing by Peter Hunt, gives the film a distinctive visual edge. Many of the shots are low, with the camera looking at the characters through keyholes, in reflections or half hidden behind doors. These teasing, tantalising images compliment the strong sense of paranoia evident throughout.
There are few Bond-style heroics and not much action (a terrible fake fight scene excepted) in this atmospheric film but 'The Ipcress File' is a slick and gripping conspiracy thriller. 40 years old and still worth watching.