Trying to split the difference between the spy worlds of larkish James Bond and serious John le Carré espionage, this second Harry Palmer thriller (of three) comes up neither fish nor fowl. It’s handsome, believable and just a tad dull. The Len Deighton story about a putative big-shot Russkie defector, seen darkly thru Harry Palmer’s black-framed glasses, feels not so much complicated as needlessly obfuscated by Israeli agents intersecting on the case for reasons of their own. With sharp location work and a cast that avoids the usual suspects, it probably holds up better than THE IPCRESS FILE/’65, its more popular predecessor. No doubt also helped by James Bond director Guy Hamilton’s less overwrought angles & compositions compared to Sidney J. Furie’s work on the first film. The real change came on the third & last in the series, when Ken Russell came on board to direct BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN/’67 in his loopy manner. Too way out for its day, BRAIN, once it locates the pulse of its subversive tone, now looks best of the lot, though it remains the least popular.
DOUBLE-BILL: In addition to the two Harry Palmers mentioned above, watch Caine work both sides of the spy street (le Carré vs Bond) in back-to-back projects: THE WHISTLE BLOWER/’86 and THE FOURTH PROTOCOL/’87. Without appearing to do anything much different in the films, he somehow gets completely different effects.