Ipcress, File, The (1965): British Espionage Thriller, Starring Michael Caine

Sidney J. Furie directed The Ipcress File, a British espionage film about brainwashing, starring Michael Caine.

The Ipcress File
Ipcress File British quad poster.jpg

Original British 1965 poster

The screenplay, by Bill Canaway and James Doran, was based on Len Deighton’s 1962 novel The IPCRESS File.

This film and its sequels were designed as an alternative to the hugely successful James Bond films, and one of the Bond producers, Harry Saltzman, was involved with the new series.

A scientist called Radcliffe is kidnapped from a train and his security escort is killed. Harry Palmer, a British Army sergeant with criminal past, now working for a Ministry of Defense, is summoned by his superior, Colonel Ross, and transferred to a section headed by Major Dalby.

Ross suspects that the Radcliffe case is connected to another mystery, of 16 top British scientists leaving their jobs. Palmer is then introduced as a replacement for the dead security escort.

Dalby briefs his agents that the suspects are Eric Grantby and his chief of staff, codenamed “Housemartin.” Using a Scotland Yard contact, Palmer locates Grantby but, when Palmer tries to stop him, he is attacked by Housemartin.

Housemartin is killed by men impersonating Palmer and Carswell. Suspecting that Radcliffe is held in a disused factory, Palmer searches, but nothing is found except a piece of audiotape marked “IPCRESS” that produces noise when played.

Dalby points out that the paper on which Grantby had written a false phone number is the plan for a military band concert. A deal is struck for Radcliffe’s return, and the exchange goes as planned but Palmer shoots a man in the shadows, who is a CIA agent.

Another CIA operative threatens to kill Palmer if he discovers that the death was not a mistake. Some days later, it becomes clear that while Radcliffe is physically unharmed, his mind has been affected. Carswell has discovered a book titled “Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress” – IPCRESS – which explains what has happened to Radcliffe and the scientists. Carswell borrows Palmer’s car to test his theory, but is shot before reaching him.

Palmer goes home to collect his belongings, and discovers the body of the second CIA agent. When he returns to the office, the IPCRESS file is missing from his desk.

On the train to Paris, Palmer is kidnapped and wakes up imprisoned in Albania. After days without sleep  and food, Grantby reveals himself as his kidnapper. Having read the file, Palmer realizes he’s going to be brainwashed. He uses pain to distract himself, but after many sessions under stress from disorientating images and loud sounds, he succumbs. Grantby then instills a trigger phrase that will make Palmer follow any commands.

Palmer manages to escape, only to discover he is really still in London. He phones Dalby, who uses the trigger phrase and gets Palmer to call Ross to the warehouse where he had been held. As Dalby and Ross arrive, Palmer holds them at gunpoint.

Dalby uses the trigger phrase again and tells Palmer to “Shoot the traitor now.” As Palmer wavers, his hand strikes against a piece of equipment and the pain reminds him of his conditioning. Dalby goes for his gun and Palmer shoots him. Ross then remarks that, in choosing Palmer, he had hoped that Palmer’s tendency to insubordination would be useful.

When Palmer reproaches Ross for endangering him, he is told this is what he is paid for.

Critical Status: Then and Now

It received a BAFTA award for the Best British film released in 1965.

In 1999, it was included at number 59 on the BFI list of the 100 best British films of the 20th century.

Michael Caine as Harry Palmer
Guy Doleman as Colonel Ross
Nigel Green as Major Dalby
Sue Lloyd as Jean Courtney
Gordon Jackson as Carswell
Aubrey Richards as Dr. Radcliffe
Frank Gatliff as Eric Grantby (Bluejay)
Thomas Baptiste as Barney
Oliver MacGreevy as Housemartin
Freda Bamford as Alice
Pauline Winter as Charlady
Anthony Blackshaw as Edwards
Barry Raymond as Gray
David Glover as Chilcott-Oakes
Stanley Meadows as Inspector Keightley
Peter Ashmore as Sir Robert

Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Produced by Harry Saltzman
Screenplay by Bill Canaway
James Doran
Based on The IPCRESS File
by Len Deighton
Michael Caine
Nigel Green
Guy Doleman
Sue Lloyd

Music by John Barry
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited by Peter R. Hunt


Lowndes Productions

Distributed by Rank Film Distributors

Release date

18 March 1965 (UK)

Running time
109 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $750,000

TCM showed this movie on November 15, 2020.