Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Ipcress File now out on Blu-ray

The ever popular film of Len Deighton's novel - with the fantastic John Barry score - is now out on the Blu-ray format. Whatever my views on the difference in quality over standard DVDs and online HD access, it was still worth me buying a copy to see what new there was on it. The film remains as watchable as ever and even though the original film can show its age in HD, it does seem to have reproduced well

Like a lot of Blu-rays, it comes with a lot of 'extras', some of which are familiar but some of which seem new (or at least, new to a disc release). These are:

  • Michael Caine is Harry Palmer - exclusive Sir Michael Caine interview
  • The Design File - an interview with production designer, Sir Ken Adam
  • Commentary with Sidney Furie and editor Peter Hunt
  • Michael Caine goes Stella Street - comedy short with Phil Cornwell (pretty funny!)
  • 1969 documentary - Candid Caine
  • Original theatre trailer

What is rather enjoyable is the programme notes from the publisher, Network Films. It's a rather nice 22-page document with some great black and white and colour films from the film, along with two very readable commentary pieces, which - from memory - have been included in a previous DVD special edition, as they're written in 2005:
  • A different class - Michael Cain and The Ipcress File by Christopher Bray, which seems pretty accurate in telling the story of how the film came to be and Caine's use of the principle of "less is more" in acting to portray Palmer; and
  • A study in insolence - the making of The Ipcress File by Steve Rogers

So while not necessarily new or ground-breaking in its content, it is a nice disc set and on a nice TV with great sound, adds something to the experience.

You can find the disc on Amazon and other stores.

Billion-Dollar Brain will be out later in the autumn on Blu-ray from the same publishers.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Guest post 3 - The beginning of the end?

With the vote on Scotland's independence looming it seems appropriate to recall Len Deighton’s short story, 12 good men and true (from Declarations of War) which describes an event associated with the time when Ireland left the Union.

Deighton’s short story, of course, is about the British Empire and the men who maintained it, the soldiers of the British Army. This tale recalls the execution of a soldier of the Connaught Rangers, an Irish Regiment that had served the British Empire with distinction since 1793. This is a beautifully crafted story about a remarkable event. It hardly needs to be said that killing is the business of soldiers but the duty that has fallen to these men, to be part of a firing squad executing a political prisoner, is a very cruel one but these are the men who kept the Empire going and this was how that was done.

In 1920, the period of the story, some members of the Connaught Rangers mutinied as a protest against the introduction of martial law in Ireland. This was the time of the Irish struggle for independence and , by way of reprisals,Irish civilians were being punished (beaten up and terrorised), in Ireland, by the Black and Tans. These men were a force of mainly English and Scots ex-soldiers, supposedly in place to keep order. One soldier of the Connaught Rangers, now serving in India was James Daley, he was the leader of a group of mutineers who protested against this treatment of their friends and relatives back home. Daley, as the leader, was executed by firing squad. According to the new introduction it is from an eye witness account of Daley’s execution that Len’s short story is based.

Prior to the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 the British Army had had many Irish units. In fact, the Connaught Rangers are closely associated with one of the best known of the British Army’s marching songs, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary". And, in the First World War, 2500 Connaught Rangers had died fighting for Britain.

But things, including national borders, can change very quickly, as the Germans discovered in 1990. And if the Scots leave what next? Northern Ireland and Wales? Never mind the British Empire, what will be left of Britain? Will we still be British? We might have to start referring to ourselves as the English, and that has a rather unpleasant ring too it!

Terry Kidd

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Deighton on Radio 4 .... Redux

For those who may have missed it, the BBC Radio 4 archive has available - for a limited time - a 30 minute interview Len did with the channel for his 80th birthday, looking back at his life and career.

You can find it here. Check it out before it's gone.

Goodbye Erich Stinnes ....

The late Gottfried John
Sad news from the world of acting that German actor Gottfried John has died at the age of 72. Most, if not all of the references have as far as I can see referred to his role as the archetypal Bond 'villain' General Ourumov in Goldeneye. And very good he was in that too, his slavic features fitting the character very well even though John himself was born in Berlin.

Few of the references I've seen online - including, for example, his Wikipedia entry - reflect the fact that he was one of the main characters in the TV adaptation of Game, Set and Match. This, of course, is a consequence largely of the fact that after one showing on UK TV in 1988 (and presumably, similarly so in international markets), the series was never repeated or released on DVD, due largely to Len's dissatisfaction with some of the casting.

I can see little to be dissatisfied with in Gottfried John's performance. His identifiable German/Slavic features - redolent of a German from the eastern provinces, perhaps - served the actor well in his portrayal of Nikolai Sadoff - KGB General - who when stationed in East Berlin chose to adopt the German pseudonym Erich Stinnes. In the 1988 ITV adaptation of Len Deighton's Game, Set and Match, John portrayed I thought extremely well the calm power of this KGB veteran in whom Bernard Samson saw something of himself, the passed-over field specialist at the mercy of the desk officers.

John was perfectly believable as the KGB colonel and, having watched the DVD series again last month, I was struck by how he fitted the role like a glove and was a great foil to Ian Holm's Bernard Samson, particularly in the scene on the motor boat in the ocean off Mexico, where Samson has to convince himself that Stinnes' defection is the real deal.

An established German actor, I enjoyed John's performance as Franz Bieberkopf's pimp friend in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz, long regarded as a milestone in German TV film-making.

Readers interested in seeing his portrayal of Erich Stinnes can frequently find episodes of the 1988 Game, Set and Match adaptation on YouTube. What do you think of his portrayal - is he the Stinnes of the books, do you think?