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Film / Harry Palmer

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Sardonic spy Harry Palmer

Michael Caine played British secret agent Harry Palmer in five films, based on a series of novels by Len Deighton.

The first three — The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain — were released in the 1960s, during the height of the Sean Connery James Bond films, and offer a grimmer alternative to the increasingly flashy espionage of Bond. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that they were actually produced by Bond producer Harry Saltzman, who recruited much of the Bond films' Production Posse to essentially make his own "realistic" spy series in-house. Caine returned to the role thirty years later for two more films, Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in Saint Petersburg.

There are more related novels, Horse Under Water and An Expensive Place To Die starring the "Palmer" character, and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy and Spy Story featuring a different (but also unnamed) spy and some recurring characters. The former two were never adapted (Horse Under Water would have been next if Billion Dollar Brain had performed better), but the last was adapted separately with the character under the name "Pat Armstrong", his alias in that novel.

Harry Palmer had a bigger influence on Caine's career than you might think. In the film Blue Ice, Caine played a retired spy named Harry as a Mythology Gag to the role, and wore the iconic NHS frames again as spies Nigel Powers and Chester King/"Arthur".

Films in this series with their own trope pages include:

The films in this series provide examples of:

  • Cultured Badass: Harry Palmer is a hardened spy who is passionate about cooking, classical music and military history.
  • The Film of the Book: The three main theatrical films of The '60s were adaptations of the books by Len Deighton. Averted with the two Made-for-TV Movies of The '90s, which were original stories.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Harry Palmer. The narrator-protagonist of the novels never gave his name - ironically, "Harry" is the only name he ever explicitly denies is his real name, when someone who only knows him as "Harry" says hello in the street.
  • Specs of Awesome: Heavy-framed National Health Service spectacles form part of Harry Palmer's deceptively insignificant-seeming appearance.
  • Spy Fiction: On this wiki's scale, Stale Beer. Very, very stale.
  • Working-Class Hero: Harry Saltzman pitched Harry as "a kitchen sink Bond".