Somewhere between James Bond and George Smiley sits Harry Palmer, underwhelming, but clever, supercool British spy. Played by Michael Caine, Palmer was the subject of either five or six films depending on how you look at things-
The Ipcress File (1965)
Funeral In Berlin (1966)
The Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Blue Ice (1992)
Bullet To Beijing (1995)
Midnight in Saint Petersburg (1996)
The first three films are based on the eponymous novels by Len Deighton, whilst the last two simply feature Harry Palmer as written by others. Blue Ice is a film about an ex-spy called Harry Anders, also played by Caine who is very obviously supposed to be a retired Harry Palmer.
Harry’s an unconventional working-class antihero. He cooks and listens to Mozart and is recruited into intelligence work primarily for his devious and criminal activities while in the British army. Not the usual Eton/Oxbridge route into the spy game then, but perhaps more realistic than that found in most mainstream fiction.
While the first two films are vastly entertaining studies in British sixties cinematic perfection, the others are increasingly horrible attempt at over-extending the Harry Palmer franchise. I absolutely love The Ipcress File, enjoy Funeral In Berlin, can barely stay awake in The Billion Dollar Brain and loathe the other three films. Five chainsaws for The Ipcress File, four for Funeral In Berlin and zero for the others.
The reason I’m writing this? I’m currently dozing through the abysmal Bullet the Beijing on British afternoon telly. Do I need more work or what?