Ipcress – top secret

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German title Ipcress – Top Secret
Original title The Ipcress File
Country of production Great Britain
Original language English
Year of publication 1965
Length 107 minutes
Age rating FSK 12[1]
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Script Bill Canaway,
James Doran
Production Harry Saltzman
Music John Barry
Camera Otto Heller
Edited by Peter Hunt
  • Michael Caine: Harry Palmer
    German dubbing voice: Peer Schmidt
  • Guy Doleman: Ross
    German dubbing voice: Arnold Marquis
  • Nigel Green: Dalby
    German dubbing voice: Gerd Martienzen
  • Sue Lloyd: Jean Courtney
    German dubbing voice: Ingeborg Wellmann
  • Frank Gatliff: Grantby ‘Bluejay’
    German dubbing voice: Klaus Miedel
  • Aubrey Richards: Radcliff
    German dubbing voice: Jürgen Thormann
  • Gordon Jackson: Carswell ‘Jock’
    German dubbing voice: Herbert Stass
  • Oliver Macgreevy: ‘Housemartin’
  • Thomas Baptiste: Barney

Ipcress – Top Secret (original title: The Ipcress File) is the 1965 film adaptation of Len Deighton’s novel of the same name, directed by Sidney J. Furie. In the thriller, produced by Harry Saltzman, secret agent Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine, makes his first screen appearance as a “recalcitrant working-class spy” in the Cold War era.[2] The film has been called the “thinking man’s Goldfinger.”[3]


London in the 1960s: Sergeant Harry Palmer, in the service of the Ministry of Defence, according to his personnel file “arrogant, overbearing, renitent and extremely opaque”, is cited by a stakeout to his superior, Colonel Ross. Ross orders him to transfer to a smaller counterintelligence unit headed by Major Dalby. Palmer replaces an agent there who was killed trying to prevent the kidnapping of the British nuclear physicist Radcliff.

Dalby’s team includes young Jean Courtney, who is eyed by Palmer – seemingly one-sidedly at first – and the affable Jock Carswell. Dalby assigns them to find a person of Albanian origin named Grantby, as well as his right-hand man Housemartin. Dalby believes the kidnapping is for ransom and Grantby is the mastermind.

Despite a lot of unnecessary red tape, Palmer is able to track down Grantby and Housemartin through a contact at Scotland Yard, but the two outwit him and escape. When Palmer returns to his apartment, he finds Courtney there, sent by Dalby to check on him. The two become friends. Carswell and Palmer learn that Housemartin has been arrested, but when they reach the police station, they find him only dead. He has been liquidated by someone claiming to be Harry Palmer. When they search the warehouse where Housemartin was picked up, all they find is a loose tape labeled “Ipcress.” On the tape is a disturbing soundscape.

While shopping, Palmer is intercepted by Ross, who asks him to look into Dalby’s activities. Palmer refuses and initially assumes Courtney is spying for Ross. Palmer apparently rejects this notion and begins a love affair with Courtney.

Grantby is contacted and the exchange of nuclear physicist Radcliff for £25,000 is arranged. After the exchange, Palmer shoots an intruder who appears. The dead man was a CIA agent who was also on Grantby’s tail. Palmer is then harassed by a CIA man named Barney with threats to kill him if he finds out it wasn’t an accident. Days later, it becomes clear that Radcliff has been severely mentally damaged and can no longer be used as a scientist. Carswell, meanwhile, has discovered that Radcliff has been brainwashed.

Carswell borrows Palmer’s car to investigate Radcliff and is shot at a red light. Palmer suspects the bullet was meant for him, and moves in with Courtney until the matter is resolved. At the office, he discovers that the Ipcress file compiled by Carswell, listing 16 other scientists treated, has been stolen from his desk. In his apartment, he finds the body of Barney, a CIA man. Palmer then reports to Major Dalby what has happened and accuses Ross of treason. Dalby advises him to go into hiding. On the train to Paris, Palmer is captured by Grantby’s men.

After seven days in a cold cell, apparently in Albania and without sleep or food, Palmer realizes that this was just the prelude to brainwashing. During the psychological torture sessions, in which the drugged Palmer is conditioned to the sounds of the Ipcress tape, Grantby’s words, and psychedelic imagery, he inflicts pain on himself with a nail from his cell to distract himself from the ordeal and counteract the conditioning. After another three days, he seems to respond to the procedure. Grantby embeds a keyword in Palmer’s subconscious that disables his free will and makes him obey every command.

Palmer manages to overpower the guards. He takes a gun and escapes. Once outside, he realizes that he was in the middle of London the whole time. He calls Dalby, who it now turns out is in cahoots with Grantby. Dalby speaks the key word and has Palmer call Ross to the building. As Dalby and Ross arrive in timed succession, Palmer becomes confused as to which of the two is the double agent. Taking advantage of the keyword again, Dalby finally asks him to shoot Ross. Palmer resists taking the fatal shot at the last moment. Palmer overcomes the psychological programming and shoots Dalby just as he is about to take the shot himself. Ross had long suspected Dalby and set Palmer on him precisely because of his propensity for insubordination. It also turns out that Courtney was working for Ross. Palmer accuses Ross of using him unscrupulously and putting him at risk of death. Ross replies that this is what Palmer is being paid to do.

Production and background

The film was conceived as a more realistic alternative to the James Bond films that were already popular at the time and strove to keep particularly close to the spirit of the novel. In this way, the film is closer to the early Bond films such as James Bond Chases Dr. No and Love Greetings from Moscow than to the later, increasingly elaborate Bond spectacles. This speaks to the flexibility of Harry Saltzman, the producer also responsible for the Bond series, where he always called for “bigger and more unusual ideas,” according to the MGM Home Entertainment documentary Harry Saltzman: Showman. Four well-known members of the Ipcress crew – in addition to Saltzman, film editor Peter R. Hunt, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam – also worked on the Bond films, and projects like this ultimately led to Saltzman’s departure from Eon Productions and the sale of Danjaq, LLC to United Artists in 1975.

Despite the general direction, The Ipcress File is very different from James Bond films: there are almost no action or fight scenes, the villain is not highlighted (and for the longest time is not even known to the viewer) and there is only one relationship with a woman. While Bond lends himself to identification as a charming macho man, Palmer comes across as more inaccessible to the average viewer. He is short-sighted, likes to cook, listens to classical music, and only works for the Secret Service because they are blackmailing him for racketeering while serving in the military in Berlin. The film also stands out for its original camera shots (by Otto Heller).

Ipcress – Streng geheim was released in cinemas in West Germany on 2 July 1965, and premiered on television on 13 November 1969 on ARD.[4]


“Caine, […] photographed at the exact moment he became a star.”

Angie Errigo: empireonline .com[5]

Ipcress – Top Secret is the first and best thriller in the Harry Palmer series […] apart from the thrilling story and the assured, somewhat mocking performance of the almost unknown Michael Caine in the leading role, the film comes up with a fair amount of outlandish visuals and camera tricks that are not necessarily justified by the script. Composer John Barry […] effectively defied all expectations with his eerie score.”

Arne Laser: The Big Film Encyclopedia[6]

“Rip-roaring spy film of considerable formal quality.”

Encyclopedia of International Film[7]

“It’s almost touching to watch the care with which an anti-hero of the spy business has been dreamed up here, the man who will show us what goes on behind the 007 scenes. Glasses, a London accent, a fondness for Mozart and cooking, a supermarket goer and anti-authority – Palmer’s characteristics could have been set by the calculating machine.”

Monthly Film Bulletin (BFI)[8][9]

“Surprisingly well-designed and varied thriller, which in technical terms consistently follows the line of the Bond films, but despite numerous ironic touches remains unclear in its plot and its motivation, which makes identification difficult, but also softens the tension.”

Evangelical Film Observer[10]

The BFI ranked the film 59th on a list of the 100 best British films of all time in 1999.[11]

Continuations and borrowings

Immediately following were the sequels Finale in Berlin (OT: Funeral in Berlin, directed by Guy Hamilton, 1966) and The Billion Dollar Brain (OT: Billion Dollar Brain, directed by Ken Russell, 1967), both again starring Michael Caine as secret agent Harry Palmer. Decades later, Caine returned as Harry Palmer in the two Harry Alan Towers-produced films The Palmer Files – The Red Death (OT: Bullet to Beijing, directed by George Mihalka, 1995) and The Palmer Files – Lords of the Apocalypse (OT: Midnight in St. Petersburg, directed by Doug Jackson, 1996).

Caine also played a similar character in the film Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), in which he portrayed Nigel Powers, who was deliberately modeled on the character of Harry Palmer, and who passed on the secret agent profession to his son Austin Powers.


The protagonist in Deighton’s novel does not have a name. The first name then used can be traced to a line from Chapter 5 of the book: “My name isn’t Harry, but in this business it’s hard to see through if it wasn’t once.”

As Palmer prepares food for Jean in the kitchen, there is a newspaper clipping hanging there, a Cookstrip– one of a series of cartoonish recipes by author Len Deighton, published in London’s The Observer from the early to mid-1960s.[12] A collection of the strips appeared in the United Kingdom in 1965 as Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book and in the United States in 1966 as Cookstrip Cook Book.

Nigel Green and Michael Caine appeared in a number of films and television episodes together, including Zulu and Play Dirty. Zulu was Michael Caine’s big break, where he was cast against the grain as an aristocratic lieutenant with Green in the rank of Colour Sergeant. Then in Ipcress, Green became the Major, and Caine the Cockney Sergeant.

According to IMDb, Christopher Plummer, Richard Harris and also Harry H. Corbett were in talks for the role of Harry Palmer, Joan Collins for that of Jean Courtney.[12]

The invented acronym “Ipcress” stands for “Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex UnderStress“.[12]

The ska group Madness released a single titled Michael Caine in 1984, featuring the actor’s voice. The video is based on the film Ipcress.

Awards and nominations

British Film Academy Awards 1966

  • British Film Academy Award in the category Best British Production Design (Colour) for Ken Adam
  • British Film Academy Award in the category Best British Cinematography (Colour) for Otto Heller
  • British Film Academy Award in the category Best British Film for Sidney J. Furie

Cannes International Film Festival 1965

  • Nomination Palme d’Or for Sidney J. Furie

Directors Guild of America 1966

  • Nomination DGA Award in the category Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Sidney J. Furie

Edgar Allan Poe Awards 1966

  • Edgar in the category Best Foreign Film for Bill Canaway and James Doran

In 1999, the British Film Institute ranked Ipcress 59th among the best British films of the 20th century.


  • Len Deighton: Ipcress – Top Secret. Novel (original title: The Ipcress File). German by Willy Thaler. Complete paperback edition. Droemer Knaur, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-426-01734-2, 190 p.

Web links

Individual references

  1. Clearance certificate for Ipcress – top secret. Voluntary Self-Regulation of the Film Industry, November 2003 (PDF; review number: 33 987 DVD).
  2. Henning Hoff: 003½ for 007. In: ZEIT online, 15 February 2006, retrieved 18 January 2008.
  3. From the (deleted)
    Film poster in the English Wikipedia
  4. Encyclopedia of International Film, p. 1527.
  5., retrieved 17 January 2008.
  6. Arne Laser. In: Dirk Manthey, Jörg Altendorf, Willy Loderhose (eds.): Das große Film-Lexikon. All top films from A-Z. Second edition, revised and expanded. Verlagsgruppe Milchstraße, Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-89324-126-4, p. 1458.
  7. Ipcress – top secret. In: Encyclopedia ofinternational film. Filmdienst, retrieved 4 October 2017.
  8. Monthly Film Bulletin (BFI), Issue 32, Number 376, May 1965, pp. 70-71
  9. retrieved 17 January 2008.
  10. Evangelischer Filmbeobachter, Evangelischer Presseverband München, Critique No. 353/1965.
  11. of the Originals june 30, 2008 on the Internet Archive) Info:The archive linkwas automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check original and archive link according to instructions and then remove this notice.@1@2Template:Webachiv/IABot/ retrieved 17 January 2008.
  12. a b c Trivia.Internet Movie Database, retrieved May 22, 2015 (English).