Year 9, Day 81 - 3/22/17 - Movie #2,575
BEFORE: It's time for a TV update, because taking a week off from movies, coupled with the fact that many of my favorite shows seem to be not returning until April (I guess nobody wants to compete with that March Madness basketball...) I've made great strides toward catching up. I'm current on all talk shows, comedy news shows, "Survivor" and cooking competitions (except for "Chopped", but that's a special case), and for my second tier of shows that I store on VHS, like "Bizarre Foods", "Bar Rescue", "Face Off" and Fox's Sunday animation line-up, I'm only two months behind. I still haven't started season 5 of "Mad Men", but that's because AMC on Demand hasn't run it yet, they've been running "Best of" collections instead, so I can't move forward on that for now. Maybe I can manage to finish the run of that show before summer.
Meanwhile, Michael Caine week rolls on, to the first of three films starring secret agent Harry Palmer. TCM ran these a few months back, which really helped me round out this chain.
THE PLOT: A counter-espionage agent in London deals with bureaucracy while investigating the kidnapping and brainwashing of British scientists.
AFTER: Well, if Alfie was an anti-hero, then Harry Palmer is sort of the "anti-Bond". Imagine if Bond had to deal with some of the more tedious aspects of intelligence work, like getting his LP-10 forms filed after each case, or making sure that his license to kill got renewed every few years, and the form filed in triplicate with the appropriate fee paid, after standing in line for a few hours. And despite what you might have seen in the "Austin Powers" films, here the scene in 1965 London isn't very colorful and swinging at all, in fact every day seems rather gray and dull.
The plot here is a bit of a snooze, it seems that a larger-than-normal number of British scientists have retired early or defected to the "other side" (that was Russia back then, I know, it's hard to imagine...) but when the latest scientist, Radcliffe, just plain disappears from a train (guess they finally got to watch Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" over in Russia...) then it's clear that something else is going on. So Harry Palmer is transferred from one intelligence division over to another to help find Radcliffe.
Of all the agents on the case, Palmer succeeds in locating the suspected kidnapper, probably because he's willing to think outside the box, and instead of just visiting the man's usual haunts, he calls in a favor from a friend at Scotland Yard and traces the man's assistant through his parking tickets. It's the kind of un-exciting surveillance trick that probably pays off more than you think in the real world. Today, of course, it's probably easier to track a suspect's credit card purchases and EZ Pass scans, but back then, I guess you worked with what you had.
A hunch leads to Palmer calling in a raid on a warehouse leads to the discovery of a fragment of an audiotape with the word "Ipcress" on it, and this apparently significant clue is then brought back to the office and placed in a file folder - that's the Ipcress file of the title. And presumable this file was then stored in the Ipcress File Cabinet, and eventually thrown out into the Ipcress Circular File (that's office-speak for "wastebasket").
This leads to a discovery of a stress-torture plot, and a watered-down version of the mind control seen in films like "The Manchurian Candidate" - maybe this should have been called "The Manchester Candidate", but I don't know enough about the U.K. to even know if they were anywhere near Manchester. But exactly who's involved in this brainwashing scheme, and exactly how deep does the conspiracy go? The answers are...moderately interesting.
But I guess that maybe means this is exactly where I should be, as this is the kind of significant, but not terribly exciting, spy film that one might watch after many more prominent ones - if James Bond was covered in Year 5 of the project, this seems about right for Year 9.
Also starring Nigel Green, Guy Doleman (last seen in "Dial M for Murder"), Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson (last seen in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962)), Aubrey Richards, Frank Gatliff, Thomas Baptiste, Oliver MacGreevy, Freda Bamford, David Glover, Stanley Meadows, Anthony Blackshaw, Barry Raymond.
RATING: 4 out of 10 cans of mushrooms