The cinematic success of secret agent James Bond, without taking any merit away from it, is the consequence of a happy mix of circumstances, among them the lack of competition, up to its standard. But things would've been much different had The Ipcress File not been a commercial flop, in 1965. The similarities between the James Bond saga and this movie are many and it had every ingredient to be a hit: a good script, an excellent actor (Michael Caine) and the same crew of 007 - production by Harry Saltzman, editing by Peter Hunt, soundtrack by John Barry and sets created by the amazing Ken Adam.
The movie was based on a novel with the same name by Dan Leighton, published in 1962 that tell a espionage story with an overlapping view into the world of neuro-psychology (Ipcress is actually an acronym for Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS). The hero, called Harry Palmer in the movie, presents several similarities with Ian Fleming's cool and charming character: like Bond, Palmer works for a government agency, uses numerous gadgets and is a fan of good cuisine.
Even though two sequels were made, with the same actor: Funeral in Berlin, in 1966 and Billion Dollar Brain, in 1967, the series went by unnoticed, amazingly far from the success of its rival, James Bond. I remember it being aired on television, many years back, still in black and white. To this day, the reasons for its lack of success are unknown. Publicity strategies, perhaps. Or maybe it was just that Michael Caine never uttered, with a most affected and haughty look: Palmer. Harry Palmer.
Some of Ken Adam's amazing drawings for the sets of the movie.