Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Ipcress File


Harry Palmer is sort of the anti-Bond of spy movies. Harry is a regular bloke who wouldn’t be in the game at all except for criminal charges that could be brought against him if he refuses. We see him doing the sort of thing that Bond, James Bond, would never do, like make coffee in the morning, shop for groceries, and feed parking meters. He’s almost blind without his glasses. He can fight pretty well, but he has no weaponized Aston-Martin or giant guns. He carries a .32 revolver.

The plot here is standard spy stuff, but well done. The stand-out thing about this movie, though, at least for me, is the technical aspects. Sidney J. Furie, the director, seldom shoots a scene in any standard way. Most of the conversations are filmed from a low angle, almost on the floor. There are also a lot of shots from high angles. Scenes are filmed through things like car windows, mesh screens, distorting glass. A lot of scenes play out in the distance, as if the people are being spied upon. Many shots have almost all the screen obscured by one thing or another. It’s mostly effective, but sometimes distracting, at least for people like me who can get caught up in wondering how they got a shot like that.

One thing in particular is an early example of what I think of as the “L&O shot.” In Law & Order and many shows like it, people almost never sit when they are talking about something. They are always hustling down a hallway or going from room to room, walking toward the camera. This wasn’t possible in the days when the super-heavy cameras had to run on tracks laid out by the grips. Even these days I know there are at least three people—more likely four or five—hustling down the corridor backwards, managing an eighty-pound steadicam.