The First Movie Hero wearing Glasses
One day in 1965, the 32-year-old Michael Caine was lunching in a local restaurant in London, wearing spectacles on his nose, with a novel next to his hand, which he occasionally flips through while eating.
Meanwhile, the young Tony Gross had just graduated from the optometry school, although he was better suited to the art school by his temperament and style. He opened an optical consulting room on Holloway Road in northern London. Dissatisfied with the tasteless models provided by NHS, Tony Gross keeps collecting antique glasses from France and the UK.
Caine has just received a £1,000 payment for acting a leading role in the movie “Zulu,” which is Caine’s first protagonist. Although it’s not a significant amount, the young man with a strong Cockney accent feels quite happy about it.
Talking about humble birth, Tony Gross came from a Polish Jewish immigrant family, which seems to have nothing to do with style. But his charming character and amiable manner made his way into the fashion world.
He sold collected vintage glasses to rock musicians and fashion people he met as a club going, poker-playing, restaurant dinner; they recommended him to their circles.
At this time, famous film producer Harry Soltzman walked into the restaurant. He and his partner Albert R. Broccoli have enjoyed great success on the 007 series. He noticed Michael once he entered. The young man was wearing thick-rim spectacles, not conspicuous at all in the crowd. However, it was exactly his quietness and unobtrusive that caught the attention of Saltzman. The Bond producer is planning a new spy movie, and he thought a less glamorous alternative to 007 could also prove profitable.
Saltzman sent a note over. It reads, “Would you have a drink with me? – Harry Saltzman,”. So Caine went over, Saltzman asked Caine if he had seen Len Deighton’s novel “The Ipcress File”. Coincidentally, it was exactly the novel that was laying on Caine’s table! Saltzman then asks Caine if he wants to participate in the film.
“Yeah”, said Caine.
So the Harry Palmer series was born.
Michael Caine & Harry Saltzman
An Unconventional Hero
Caine and Connery both gained their fame from playing a spy role in the 60s. However, compared with the sophisticated, sexually appealing, beautifully sun-tanned James Bond, Caine as Henry Palmer represents something alternative to an 007 type of hero:
A hero is not necessarily a man who is six foot three and can ride a horse and shoot a gun and all this sort of thing. The hero is just anybody who does something heroic. What I was was just anybody who didn’t even bother to do anything heroic and was just against the normal type of screen hero that one saw. — Michael Caine
Spectacles——Definitely the most revolutionary image feature of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer. People are so surprised seeing the protagonist wearing a pair of glasses at all times in the movie, and they even ask: is he short-sighted, does he have to wear that?
Other than spectacles, Caine’s Harry Palmer has many traits that are considered antithetical to those of classical heroes.
For instance, in a classical hero movie, you’d hardly witness a spy shopping with a trolley in a supermarket. And he was so good at shopping that can even tell which mushroom label is superior in flavour. Harry Palmar also cooked a meal for a woman in the film, which is beyond imagination in any 007 series.
Secret agent Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine, prepares to grind some fresh coffee for breakfast in a scene from ‘The Ipcress File’, directed by Sidney J. Furie, 1965. (Photo by Universal Pictures/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Caine once said in an interview: “I saw Sean having a difficulty trying to get away from Bond, and I thought the minute I take these (the spectacles) off, it’s not Harry Palmer.”
Spectacle has its symbolic meanings to Harry Palmer, so as to the whole anti-mainstream 60s, as a signifier.
As a matter of fact, there’s never been a leading man since Harold Lloyd who wears spectacles. While Harold Lloyd, who enjoys a paralleled reputation as Charlie Chaplin, is a comedian.
MICHAEL CAINE 1966 1960S ©PATRICK MORIN/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC.
In 1965, I was a shy nerd who wore the standard black framed glasses of the era. When I saw “The Ipcress File” in a movie theater, with a friend, I was jazzed that the hero, Michael Caine, wore glasses similar to mine. Although I was a moon-faced teen, totally lacking Caine’s photogenic features, I now felt less like a loser, thanks to Sir Michael Caine.