Book Cover of the Day


Title: Hostile Intent
Author: Clive Egleton
Publisher: Coronet
Release Year: 2003

Many years ago, I read Seven Days For a Killing by Clive Egleton (it was the basis for the film, The Black Windmill with Michael Caine). I enjoyed the book – much more than the film, but for some unexplained reason, Egleton just dropped off my radar. But there’s a whole series of books featuring a spy named Peter Ashton that are worth a look.

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Book Cover of the Day

The Hand (1981)

Country: United States
Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill, Viveca Lindfors, Rosemary Murphy, Mara Hobel
Writer: Oliver Stone
Director: Oliver Stone
Cinematograher: King Baggot
Music: James Horner
Producer: Edward R. Pressman

The great thing about watching a Michael Caine film is that you do not know what you are going to get. It could be a masterpiece, or Caine may have simply needed some cash to build an extension to his home. And that works for me. Though The Hand is a strange addition to the Caine cannon. The film is complete B-grade trash, but Caine gives an absolutely mesmerising performance, displaying a full range of emotions, from gentle humour and tenderness, through pain and anger, and finally to delusional psychosis. It is so strange that Caine should put in a performance of this quality for a film that frankly, doesn’t warrant it. Needless to say, the film is all the better for it, and at times it is easier to overlook some of the film’s inconsistencies due to the weight of Caine’s performance.

But the film is pretty silly though. Caine plays Jonathan Lansdale who is a successful writer of a comic strip featuring a character named ‘Mandro’. He lives with his wife Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) and his daughter Lizzy by a lake in the countryside. It all seems rather idyllic. But not so. Lansdale’s wife is not happy. She misses the city and wants to move back to New York with their daughter. The couple have an argument about this while she drives him to a meeting. Distressed and distracted, she tries to overtake a truck on a turn. Another vehicle comes from the opposite direction and the Lansdale’s are sandwiched in between. With his hand out the window, Lansdale tries to signal to the driver behind them to slow down so they can pull back in to the correct lane in safety – but too late! Lansdale’s hand is ripped off by the vehicle traveling the other way. The hand flies off through the air and lands in a long grassy field beside the road. A search is mounted for the hand but it is never found.

Months pass and the Lansdale family is coming to terms with Jonathan’s stump. At a checkup at the doctors, Lansdale tells the doc that he can still feel his fingers. The doctor says that these are just phantom feelings. His brain has not come to terms with the loss of the hand yet, and he could feel phantom sensations for years. Here is where the story gets predictably weird. It appears that Lansdale’s hand has come back to life and is now stalking its former owner. Why is it stalking its owner – well that’s never really explained. In fact a lot is left unexplained in this film. It is never made clear if ‘The Hand’ is on Lansdale’s side – like a friend – or whether the ‘The Hand’ is upset and angry because it is no longer a part of Lansdale’s body and it simply wants to cause havoc. Or maybe ‘The Hand’ does what it wants depending on its mood – some days it helps, other days it doesn’t.

As you may have realised, the hand that Lansdale lost was his ‘illustrative’ hand so he cannot work – or at least not as a comic strip artist any more. His publisher suggests that a new young artist takes over the strip, and Lansdale acts as a creative consultant. The publisher sends over some art samples for Lansdale to inspect, but when he returns them, they have been vandalised – or more correctly covered in scribble. Lansdale didn’t do it. Who did? Uh-huh – the vengeful ‘Hand’. Now Lansdale begins to see his ‘Hand’ in his mind.

Jonathan and Anne’s marriage disintegrates and Jonathan takes a job as a teacher at a small university in another town. Meanwhile Anne has moved on too, and is seeing her yoga instructor. Jonathan isn’t happy about this because he wants to keep the family together. Having said that, even though he wants his wife to remain chaste and come back to him, in the interim this doesn’t stop him from starting an affair with one of his students, Stella (Annie McEnroe).

All this rather contrived partner swapping in the story is simply to build up a bit of sexual tension and jealous rage from Lansdale. With these emotions in play, he can send his ‘Hand’ off to do his bidding for him. Or so he thinks. He senses what it is doing and thinks he is controlling it. Earlier, It killed an abusive drunk who confronts Lansdale in the street (a cameo by director Oliver Stone). Later it kills a rival for Stella’s affections. And ultimately it turns on Lansdale himself.

The Hand is entertaining in its way but it is clumsy. It should be a ’shock film’. The renegade hand should be popping up all the time, in an unpredictable and gruesome fashion. But instead the film plays like a quasi psychological thriller, but all the twists are predicable and the inconsistencies become a bit annoying in the end. There is nothing new to be found here. Oliver Stone directs this film with very little flair. I know it’s one of his earlier works (it could even be his directorial debut) but there is very little style. The Hand effects are by Carlo Rambaldi and at times they are a bit clunky – the flesh doesn’t always look right, which is very noticeable when the ‘Hand’ is wrestling a real human hand.

All in all, I enjoyed watching The Hand because it is a Michael Caine film — and I am a fan. Had another actor been in the role, I don’t think I’d give this film the time of day. It’s B-grade trash, and for what is purported to be a horror film, it is not scary.

The Hand (1981)

Harry Palmer Files – 006 – The David Bailey Michael Caine portrait

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

In the banner above…you know, the one that’s been on top of every HPF post so far…you may have noticed what is perhaps the coolest photograph ever taken. It’s a portrait of Caine taken by photographer David Bailey (inspiration for a movie that’s the epitome of 60s cool, Blow Up), in 1965, during the promotional period for The IPCRESS File. It’s one of my favorite portraits ever taken, and for the reasons that Salon journalist Charles Taylor elaborates upon in a 2000 profile of Caine:

The iconic image of Michael Caine is probably best summed up by a 1965 David Bailey photograph recently reprinted in his book “Birth of the Cool.” In it, Caine wears the black horn-rimmed glasses he donned to play secret agent Harry Palmer in three films that began with “The IPCRESS File.” An unlit Gauloise dangles from his mouth, and his black suit, tie and white button-down shirt are slim and immaculate. But there’s something unstable about the photograph, an unnerving aliveness that, 35 years later, still makes its meaning impossible to pin down, cut loose from its era as much as Bailey’s chic portraits of other icons of ’60s Brit cool — Jean Shrimpton, Mick Jagger, even the Kray Brothers — are contained by their times. The portrait is bordered by the edges of the black frame, but Caine’s eyes make you feel as if you’re the one who has been nailed to the wall. Steady, cool to the point of frigidity, they look as if they’re glowing from within their partially shadowed sockets; the long eyelashes that frame them might be tiny laser beams. Caine’s impassive expression and ray-gun orbs don’t offer the certainty of either kindness or cruelty but something far more unsettling: the sensation of being coolly appraised, of having each action or utterance totted up and held to your credit or debit.

From London’s National Portrait Gallery, here’s the original:

Michael Caine by David Bailey

A photograph that evokes that much cool is practically begging for homages. And there are plenty around:

And here are some artistic interpretations:

In November of 2004, to coincide with the release of the remake of Alfie, Arena Magazine commissioned Bailey to recreate his earlier Caine photo with actor Jude Law for the cover. The cover subsequently won a best cover of the year award from Campaign.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, August 2nd, 2009.

Harry Palmer Files – 006 – The David Bailey Michael Caine portrait

The Harry Palmer Files – 005 – The Ipcress File New York Times Review

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: August 3, 1965

It doesn’t take a detective to figure out Harry Saltzman’s game and to calculate what’s brewing in his British spy film, The IPCRESS File.

Having picked up a tidy packet as coproducer of the James Bond films and having found what appears to be a booming market for pictures about daredevil sleuths (vide Jean-Paul Belmondo’s as well as Sean Connery’s), he is obviously trying to start another with a good-looking chap named Michael Caine in this double-o-sevenish picture, which came to the Coronet yesterday.

And in one respect he has succeeded. He has built up the proper atmosphere in which a daredevil-challenging mystery might conceivably occur and a dauntless and daring detective might acceptably take wing.

His Techniscope setting of London, in which this espionage thriller takes place, is full of rich and mellow colors and highly official goings-on behind dark-paneled doors in old, gray buildings and in cozy bachelor digs and gentlemen’s clubs.

An air of mystery and menace to the very balance of scientific power seems to surround the pressing problem Civil Intelligence has to solve regarding the curious kidnapping and brainwashing—or braindraining, as they call it—of a slew of distinguished scientists. And the chaps who have to solve it seem eminently qualified.

There’s Dalby, chief of Civil Intelligence, a bristly-mustached, guardsman type, quivering with efficiency and sarcasm as played by Nigel Green. There’s Ross, chief of Military Intelligence, who has curiously passed the buck, and, in Guy Doleman’s slippery portrayal, seems not quite worthy of trust.

There’s Carswell, the canny Scot analyst who assembles the IPCRESS file and is strangely bumped off shortly after. Gordon Jackson performs well in the role.

And, finally, there’s Harry Palmer, the key sleuth, played by Mr. Caine, not to mention several lesser secret agents, including one strange, incongruous girl.

Yes, there’s everything here to charge the large screen with the toniest spy-film atmosphere, and the director, Sidney J. Furie, has added to it with his flashy camera style.

Fast, fluid, candid shooting; startling close-ups of telephones, traffic lights, train wheels; eyes and faces seen through slits in doors make for sheer physical excitement and a feeling of things happening. The IPCRESS File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see.

But somehow Len Deighton’s story of this running down of a gang of scientist body-snatchers gets confusingly out of hand as it tumbles and swirls in the direction of a gadgeted sweatbox in which the hero’s mental reflexes are relentlessly conditioned under stress.

Suspense and even attention are allowed to lag by the script, which Bill Canaway and James Doran have written. There are too many yawning holes in it.

And for all Mr. Caine’s casual manner—for all his scholarly and amiable air—he just doesn’t ooze the magnetism that would make him an irresistible sleuth. He is simply too much of an esthete. He loves Mozart, cooking, and books as much as he loves—well, temptation of the sort introduced by Sue Lloyd.

There may be a place in the affections of some filmgoers for a genteel cop—for one who can cook up a stew as well as a turmoil. But this one will never take the place of Bond.

This review first appeared on the Mister 8 website on August 2009.

The Harry Palmer Files – 005 – The Ipcress File New York Times Review

The Harry Palmer Files – 004 – New York Times IPCRESS File ads

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

Here’s a collection of advertisements for The IPCRESS File found in the theater listings of the New York Times in 1965-1966:

New York Times large IPCRESS ad

New York Times medium IPCRESS ad

New York Times pistol IPCRESS ad

New York Times small IPCRESS ad

New York Times tall IPCRESS ad

New York Times wide release IPCRESS ad

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, August 29th, 2009

The Harry Palmer Files – 004 – New York Times IPCRESS File ads

Harry Palmer Files – 002 – The IPCRESS File Board Game

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

I first saw this item in a photograph advertising the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum of Baltimore and have been curious about it since. This week, I found one online in an ebay auction. I’ve contacted the seller, Joe, and he has kindly consented to let us use pictures of the board and game pieces here for our Harry Palmer discussion.

Joe describes the game as follows:

“The IPCRESS File,” a board game issued in 1966 by Milton Bradley. Game No. 4643. A suspense / espionage game modeled after the popular 1965 British espionage film starring Michael Caine as “Harry Palmer, the cool British agent,” and Len Deighton’s 1962 novel, “The IPCRESS File.”

* For 2 to 4 players
* For ages 10 to adult
* Object: Get the “Double Agent” before he gets you
* Average play time 25 minutes

The game is 100 percent complete. It includes board, 24 cards, four agent pieces, four stands (one for each agent piece), two red-and-gold dice and original box.

IPCRESS File game box

IPCRESS File game board

IPCRESS File game pieces

Another view of IPCRESS File game box

This post originally appeared on the Mister 8 website, July 3rd, 2009.

Harry Palmer Files – 002 – The IPCRESS File Board Game

Harry Palmer Files – 001 – RIP Karl Malden / Leo Newbegin


This post originally appeared on the Mister 8 website, July 3rd, 2009 and coincided with the passing of actor Karl Malden

Starting today, and continuing every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

I’ve been intending this series of posts for awhile, and it’s unfortunate that the sad news of the death of Karl Malden serves as the kick-off to the series, but so it goes…

Karl Malden credit in Billion Dollar Brain

In the last film of the Palmer trilogy, Billion Dollar Brain, Malden played Leo Newbegin, an old acquaintance of Harry’s who wants to get him involved in a profitable venture involving a supercomputer and a megalomaniacal Texas billionaire. Newbegin’s true goals aren’t cooperative or altruistic, but self-serving. In the end, he’s brought down by that commonplace Achille’s heel, love for a cold and uncaring, yet beautiful blonde.

Billion Dollar Brain was certainly not the highlight of Malden’s career (actually, it’s hard to put a finger on a single highlight — was it How the West Was Won? On the Waterfront? Patton? His role on television’s Streets of San Francisco?), but even here, in a mostly thankless role, he excels. In his character’s debut, he’s nude in a sauna, greeting the secret agent turned detective who once saved his life:

“It’s a bit warm in here for me, Leo,” says Palmer.

“Well don’t be shy, take your clothes off,” replies Newbegin. Then, responding to Palmer’s hesitation: “Oh, come on, don’t be so British!”

In fact, why don’t we enjoy that entire scene, which may have also been, as you’ll see in the end, an influence on nude scenes in the Austin Powers films:

Malden was one of those classic character actors, always recognizable from the bulbous nose he got from twice breaking it as a youth, but also melting into any character put before him. Malden would substantially improve any film that he was a part of, this one included.

Kees was kind enough to upload an interview with Malden from the set of Billion Dollar Brain. I thought this exchange was especially interesting:

Interviewer: It seems that the heroes of films today are the new ugly so-called, as opposed to the pretty boys of yesterday.

Malden: I think they’re coming to their fore — they’re just beginning to come to their fore. I think you take a look at Burt Lancaster. You take a look at Lee Marvin, you take a look at Ernest Borgnine, who is kind of the leader of this whole thing. I think we’re gonna have our day, and I belong in that category, the leading man, the ugly leading man…

Harry Palmer Files – 001 – RIP Karl Malden / Leo Newbegin