Michael Caine’s second-best movie – and one of about 20 ‘old films’ owned by the BBC, and as a result screened so often that I know it by heart.
The title means: Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned REflex with StresS.
Harry Saltzmann had produced 3 Bond movies and in the year of the 4th, Thunderball, chose to go upmarket to Bond’s downmarket with this adaptation of Len Deighton’s 1962 spy novel.
He used the same composer, John Barry, who has never been better. The soundtrack is jazzy and involves Bartok’s favourite instrument, the Hungarian cimbalom (a sort of zither).
While in the novel the protagonist is first person and isn’t given a name, in the film (and its sequels, Funeral In Berlin, 1966, and Billion Dollar Brain, 1967) he is Harry Palmer. He’s an INFINITELY more interesting character than Bond: he is working-class, a cook, listens to Bach and Mozart (the occasion for a great, raised-eyebrow look from Nigel Green as his secret-service superior, Major Dalby. Green, the year after his Colour Sergeant Bourne in Zulu – also with Caine, has his best role ever.)
AND Palmer wears glasses, horn rims; the film includes a shot taken from his POV of the glasses being taken off and the image going out of focus.
The writers are of an almost J Wrathall-like obscurity: W H Canaway (aka Bill) was a novelist who only wrote one other screenplay, Sammy Going South (1963), adapted from his own novel; and James Doran, a TV writer (Z Cars etc) who only wrote this one screenplay. But they do an excellent job, junking Deighton’s plot, much of which is set in Lebanon, to focus on London. It’s one of the great London movies – despite the director, Sidney J Furie, being Toronto born, the son of Polish immigrants.
It’s brilliantly framed. Whatever happened to the director? (The cinematographer, Prague-born Otto Heller, was good – he also did Peeping Tom, 1960 – but at 69 wasn’t in the market for something quite so outre…) As an impressionable 18-year-old, I made a note of Furie’s name, sure to come across him again.
But – apart from The Leather Boys (1964) and a ten-minute burst of The Appaloosa (1966), with M Brando having a bad wig day (not to be confused with Ed Harris’s Appaloosa, 2008) – I’ve never seen another of his films.
I noticed he’d directed Superman IV (1987, IMDb rating 3.7) AND Iron Eagle IV (1995, 3.3), which apart from making him a quartet specialist, hardly seemed to promise much.
What went wrong?
He was born in 1933, made his directorial debut in 1957 and was STILL WORKING at 81: witness his 2014 film Pride Of Lions, with the Superman/Iron Eagle double of Margot Kidder AND Louis Gossett Jr.
Which means he at least keeps in touch with his stars…