This classic Cold War thriller about Western scientists being brainwashed is a bold and gritty contrast to the lightweight spoofery of Ipcress contemporaries such as Matt Helm and Our Man Flint (1965). Compared to these spies, Caine’s Harry Palmer makes an unlikely expert in espionage.
Cockney, bespectacled, and perhaps a little too familiar with breaking-and-entering (he’s a former criminal), he cooks (spaghetti of course) and makes real coffee for his female conquests in his small flat in Formosa Street, Maida Vale, and – above all – he doesn’t take any shit from his plummy superiors.
Palmer is introduced to the hilariously inscrutable bureaucracy of the British Secret Service while trying to find out who is behind a “brain drain” of top scientists.
Harry is regarded with scorn by old-school Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman) who gladly hands him over to Major Dalby (Nigel Green) and his team, who include Carswell (Gordon Jackson) and Jean Courtney (Sue Lloyd).
Carswell quickly becomes an ally for Harry, whilst Jean responds to his less than suave overtures to come to his flat for dinner.
Harry gradually begins to make headway, locating one of the likely kidnappers, Grantby – codenamed Bluejay (Frank Gatliff), and his lieutenant Housemartin (Oliver MacGreevy).
On a hunch, Harry orders a raid on a warehouse but finds nothing other than a strange tape that emits atonal noise. On it is written the word “Ipcress”.
Kidnapped Dr Radcliffe (Aubrey Richards) is returned in exchange for a payment but in the chaos immediately after the swap, Harry shoots an American spy.
Radcliffe has been brainwashed and can no longer function as a scientist, leading Carswell to make the connection that will explain what Ipcress really means.
The stroppy spy returned in two impressive sequels; Funeral In Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), as well as the less impressive made-for-TV movie Bullet to Beijing in 1995.
Sidney J Furie