Sixties Time Capsule: The Ipcress File (1965)

John Barry, the composer of the music for Goldfinger, also scored Sidney J. Furie’s British espionage thriller The Ipcress File (1965). The set designer for Goldfinger and for many other Bond films, Ken Adam, returned to create masterful if remarkably drab sets. Peter Hunt edited both films, so in many ways, the two movies are very similar.

The Ipcress File Trailer

While The Ipcress File takes a more downbeat approach to spectacle, each film opens with a prologue of sorts before it dives deeper into the narrative; within the first couple of minutes a death has occurred. The camera focuses on the face of Dr. Radcliffe’s (Aubrey Richards) carrier before intercutting to Harry Palmer’s (Michael Caine) eye and then zooming out shortly thereafter. Goldfinger opens with our main protagonist on a separate mission, before diving head first into the bulk of the plot.  

The score is reminiscent of what one would come to expect with spy thrillers; very foreboding in nature. Barry’s score forThe Ipcress File doesn’t sound as sweeping, consistently reminding the viewer of the gritty nature of the story: the more bureaucracy, the more realistic. Whether Palmer is walking or simply standing still, the camera often captures his position off-center, revealing the stunning scenery or architecture in the background and framing each scene to make it easier for audiences to digest every bit of film.

Extremely low angles are utilized to position Palmer in a superior stance. His entire body takes up the full screen in many instances, such as when he is getting prepared to leave in the morning or talking to his colleagues. Frames that don’t feature Palmer are often titled, using a Dutch angle to drive home the point of the crooked organization. This technique is employed after Palmer gets a new handler and assignment, and in a way, breaks the fourth wall to let us know that something is horribly wrong, and yet, we remain completely powerless to help the main character. 

The stakes are considerably higher than most espionage movies, too. Rather than label who is heroic and who is villainous, each character has moral ambiguity, even Palmer, who accidentally kills a CIA operative. It shows what length the government is willing to go to protect their own interests, by using government employees as expendables, and thus is much darker than the plot of a more streamlined spy thriller, such as Goldfinger

The fight scenes are choreographed in a manner that doesn’t require frequent cuts. During the first fight sequence, the camera is placed both inside of a building and a car, restricting the frame in which the fight can be scene. It doesn’t last more than a few seconds, but it’s considerably more low-key in terms of style than other action flicks. The framing is consistently constricted throughout the film: frames-within-frames, if you will.  

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

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