The next big title in DK Canada’s The Movie Book is the classic The Third Man. Having previously reviewed it, I jumped right to the What Else to Watch list, and dove into this spy thriller from the 1960s starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer.
Based on the novel and characters by Len Deighton, this film should like a bit of a Bond film, which is no surprise considering that it involves Harry Saltzman as producer, production design by Ken Adam, edited by Peter Hunt and music by John Barry. Despite that, the film tries to distance itself from the 007 legacy.
A little grittier than a Bond film, it is decidedly less glamorous as well, such as Palmer’s office, his tiny flat, and his daily grind are shown, like grocery shopping, something Bond would never do.
Palmer finds himself enmeshed is a strange mystery involving a number of scientists that have gone missing and returned suffering a ‘brain drain.’
He is assigned to another department, by his commander, Ross (Guy Doleman) and soon finds himself working on the mysterious case under Dalby (Nigel Green). He comes across a file known as Ipcress, and his investigation will lead him places he doesn’t expect, and up against an enemy he doesn’t suspect.
There are no big action sequences, there are no gadgets, there aren’t a bevy of beauties, in fact Palmer is very much an anti-Bond, and the story, as extraordinary as it is, works and entertains, even as Palmer begins to realise he is more than expendable.
The pacing, and the style is a complete antithesis of Saltzman’s involvement with the Bond films. It’s dirty, dark, and looks at the Ministry of Defence and it’s ilk in a cynical, rather gritty way.
Palmer, bespectacled and troubled, is a far cry from Fleming’s secret agent, and that seems to be the point. While it’s not a quite realistic look at espionage of the time, it’s probably a little closer to the real thing than 007 is portrayed as.
Caine, as always, is exceptional, and is a lot of fun to watch as a secret agent, even as he realises that he can’t trust those around him. And may be betrayed by more than one of them.
I found the film rather slow-paced to begin with but found myself more and more caught up with it as it went on. It ends up being a very solid and entertaining film, and Caine would go on to play Palmer an additional four more times through the years.
This one was pretty damned enjoyable, and showed that even in the 60s the spy movie could be dark.
I can’t wait to see what DK Books’ The Movie Book brings me next!