Michael Caine double-feature! The Ipcress File is a great spy thriller and the first film in the Harry Palmer series. This is pure ’60s Caine, and predates many of his other cinematic classics including his string of great ones from that decade – Gambit, The Wrong Box, Deadfall, etc.
Caine is Palmer, of course, a spy who also happens to be a gourmet chef and lover of Bach and Mozart. When scientists start to go missing Palmer’s put on the case. Of course, there’s a mole in their midst…
Sidney J. Furie, whose odd filmography also includes The Entity, Superman IV, and Ladybugs, directs with some panache that can mostly be found in the varied angles. A sequence where Palmer finds an American spy dead in his apartment features frames like these:
Many other shots are low angles with a lot of foreground (check out that outfit on the secretary talking to Caine!):
Even Furie’s shot-reverse shot is often canted at moments that aren’t particularly tense. Here, Palmer has an exchange with Jean (Sue Lloyd):
Other frames use clever objects to shoot through, like this oft-imitated shot through a pair of glasses:
These shots have a particularly Welles-ian feel to them, but also remind of the cool Jean-Pierre Melville-influenced ’60s.
A Shock to the System
Based on a novel by Simon Brett, A Shock to the System is a great example of film that is outdone less by its strict plot, and more by three other cinematic elements.
Caine here plays Graham Marshall, mid-level player at a corporation who goes on a murderous streak after being passed over for a promotion.
On some levels, A Shock to the System really seems like it wants to be a Coen Brothers film. It tries to do dark and droll, and sometimes succeeds (see the moment where Graham tosses ashes from an urn and they blow back in his face, pre-dating the same scene from The Big Lebowski), but most of the time is just tiresome. None of the characters are sharp or particularly interesting.
The biggest offenders in the film: 1) Voiceover. Graham has, for some reason, a third-person voiceover that adds nothing, is really annoying, and is ultimately distracting. 2) The production design. It’s pretty flat. There are opportunities – the entire office building, for example – to really play up the satire in how the office is presented versus how other spaces are…but it’s a missed opportunity. 3) My least favorite part: the camera movement. Christ, it’s like director Jan Egleson got his hands on a steadicam for the first time in his life. The camera doesn’t stop moving and seems aimless. It moves just for the sake of moving. It wanders through apartments, roams through the office, and circles around houses, but every time the same thing could be accomplished with a lot less. And all of the camera movement really slows things down to a slow plod. This is the type of film that should zip along, while constantly winking at the audience.