Recently I have viewed three films, two for the first time and one an old favourite which cover the dramatic change that taken place in government intelligence with the digital era- Allied (WWII), the Ipcress File (the Cold War) and Snowdon, together with one documentary which covers the escape of Snowden from Hong Kong to Russia.
The 1965 film the Ipcress File was the second major film within three years on brainwashing, in this instance using electronic sounds in addition to a disorientating environment and I could not resist seeing again when it appeared on the electronic programme guide. The first film was the Manchurian Candidate (1962) based on the embedded psychological transformation of a Korean War prisoner which can be triggered subsequent and remade for release in 2004. The two films which interested me more because they dealt with the ability to manipulate and control people is the classic George Orwell 1984, a book, film and radio play and the relatively unknown Control Factor (2003). The Ipcress File is based on the book by Len Deighton with Michael Caine in the role of Harry Palmer, an army soldier blackmailed into becoming a Watcher for the security services after some unauthorised private enterprise when serving in the army of Occupation in Germany. He is transferred to a special ops unit after an alarming number of scientists disappear in circumstances which cannot be attributed to the much talked about “brain drain” at that time. The character of Palmer fits the traditional projection of the British low level operative, single but able to manage a home (he likes to cook with quality ingredients, reprimanding a senior officer who recommended an inexpensive brand of tinned mushrooms compared to the original champignons, and he is well read and an educated musical ear. Another of my favourites of the genre is Callan with Edward Woodward.
Harry Palmer was intentionally created not to being the same class or league as James Bond although he has a roving eye, is creative in his approach and commands loyalty and help from friendship accumulated along the way. In this instance, he sees several of his new colleagues murdered and an attempt to frame for the murder of a CIA officer at his flat. The action centres on tracing the person likely to be engaged in the trafficking of the abducted scientist. When the scientist is recovered for a ransom payment he is found to have been brain washed and memory cleared. When Palmer begins to suspect one of this two bosses is a traitor he is abducted believes he is solitary confinement in a Soviet state and given the treatment, but managing to retain some self-control and memory by self-injury pain. He and his audience then face a difficult choice between which of the bosses is the traitor and which to kill. Fortunately, his judgment is correct. Ipcress stands for An Introduction into Conditioned Reflex Under Stress. This film is also entertainment with low level technology reminding of all those large computer frames with flashing coloured lights to signify brain power processing
Len Deighton wrote four book on Harry Palmer with Michael Caine starring in the three made into films (Funeral in Berlin and Million Dollar Brain. Harry Palmer is said to appear in two other Deighton Works Spy Story and Twinkle Twinkle Little Spy. Michael Caine two decades later reappeared as Harry Palmer in two films, not based on the work of Deighton Bullet to Beijing 1995 and Midnight in St Petersburg 1996. I have one Len Deighton novel, a hardback edition of Close on the Film Industry.
The world of spying, its treachery, double dealing and expendability of agents in the national interest is well documented on film book and documentary. At present among the books being read is the biography of Le Carre. A more realistic presentation of the Spy can be experienced through the works of Le Carre and I have his books, Smiley’s People (and DVD), The Honourable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor. Solder. Spy (and DVD), The Russia House and DVD, The Mission Song and the Constant Gardener (and DVD) together with the DVD of the series, the Perfect Spy together with the BBC radio series which also includes The Secret Pilgrim. Call for Dead, the looking Glass War, a Murder of Quality, the DVD of the Deadly Affair and the most haunting of them all The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with a memorable performance on screen by Richard Burton (have the DVD).