Secret agent Harry Palmer (OscarÂ(r)-winner Michael Caine - Best Supporting Actor, The Cider House Rules, 1999; Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986) is blackmailed into working for MI5 again on his wildest - and most dangerous - ... more »assignment yet. An insane oil billionaire, intent on destroying Communism by starting a new world war, is close to achieving his goal with the help of the world's largest, and mostpowerful, computer. Harry is the only man who may be able to stop him; but as he races from London to Finland to Latvia to Texas and back, he must determine who of his supposed allies (a sexy Russianagent, a Soviet colonel and an American mercenary) is the one he can actually trust!« less
"Each one of the "Harry Palmer" films is radically different from the other. "The Ipcress File" (Universal, 1965) was a psychological thriller. "Funeral in Berlin" (Paramount, 1966) was a taut espionage triple cross. "The Billion Dollar Brain" (United Artists, 1967) was something else.
Throughout the series, Michael Caine starred as "Harry Palmer" -- the spy with no name in the Len Deighton novels. Each film has its own spin on Deighton's work. The first two films depicted Harry Palmer as a working class spy. Very down to earth and gritty. This third outing, directed by Ken Russell, was slicker, somewhat Bond-like in feel -- but then, so was the book on which it's based. Some love it, some hate it. The actors are quite good, production values are high, the snow is for real and lots of it. The plot is strange -- no doubt about it. Actually quite bizarre at times with some over-the-top set pieces. A cracking good spy yarn -- but don't expect explosions every five minutes.
This is quite a good (not great), entertaining film and long overdue on DVD. It's been available since September 2004 on Region 2 disc and now at long last on Region 1 on October 4, 2005, in its original aspect ratio and Dolby stereo. Apparently a short segment with Beatles music had to be deleted for copyright purposes. Perhaps the holding company held out for to much money?
After a lapse of over 25 years, the next Harry Palmer films with Michael Caine would be "Bullet to Beijing" and "Midnight in St Petersberg"."
Over the top 60's spy movie
Mr. Stephen Kennedy | Doha, Qatar | 01/31/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Over the top can be a positive thing. For decades Bond movies have made their reputation on it. However, this third entry in the Harry Palmer series goes a long way to undoing the good will built up over the first two instalments (The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin) in its 60's excess. Its predecessors made a virtue not of reality, but creating a believable every day Cockney with unique character traits, unwillingly dragged through the existence of spying, and all the bureaucracy inherent in it. The movie and plot were never fully grounded in reality, but were nonetheless believable. Here, Ken Russell opts to throw away the edgy impressionistic camera angles developed by Sidney Furie and Guy Hamilton, instead making a pseudo Bond movie. Which is a real pity - who needs another Bond-lite character? The plot builds slowly at first with satisfyingly snowy locations and skullduggery and spying.. but soon becomes lost in an over-the-top ending involving a megalomaniac American oil billionaire using a not-so-super-now-computer to try and invade Latvia. There is never a real sense of danger to humanity, and too many plot threads are left unexplained for this to be an entirely successful affair. And yet, all of this is tempered by Michael Caine's effortless charisma in the role. If the scriptwriters fail to maintain the details in the screenplay that made the character so involving, Caine overcomes this with his screen presence. Karl Malden plays well in the rather two dimensional `greedy guy' role, and Ed Begley plays `evil megalomaniac' well within the confines of the material. Guy Coleman makes a welcome return as Colonel Ross but alas is woefully underused. The femme fatale is played by Francoise Dorleac, who tragically died at a young age later the same year in a car accident. Honeywell computers are given a big credit as having supplied all the computing rooms and material which make such a big component of the plot. It's fantastically quaint now to watch huge rooms of computers racked up to do mundane tasks, programming supplied by stacks of cards. One unintentionally hilarious scene has Karl Malden `editing' the data by taking some of the programming cards out and shredding them! I can't imagine what a generation brought up on iPods and powerful home computers must make of it. In summary, what makes the movie at best mediocre - the bland script, the over the top campness, will endear it as a classic to others. The action scenes are handled well, the locations in Finland suitably spectacular, and the actors are more than up to the task. However this reviewer was left cold by more than just the scenes of snow and ice. "
A Good But Not Great Harry Palmer Film
Stephen Kaczmarek | Columbus, Ohio United States | 07/31/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Though it's the weakest entry in the original Harry Palmer spy series, "Billion Dollar Brain" is definitely worth a look for aficionados of Len Deighton's novels and Michael Caine's performances. Down on his luck as a private eye, Palmer reluctantly takes on a mission for his old boss (all-too-brief appearances by Guy Doleman) in MI5, where he is sucked into a scheme grand enough for a Bond film. What is remarkable about "Billion Dollar Brain" is not the plot -- as muddled as any dreamed up by Deighton -- but that it is remarkably prescient. The film's muted cinematography previews what will become the norm a few years later, as by the 1970s movies lost their technicolor gloss in favor of the more dull, documentary look that this film relentlessly conveys. Moreover, it gives us a glimpse of what the computer-reliant world of today was imagined to be in 1967, from reasonably accurate mechanical phone messages to high-tech security systems employing cameras, retina scans, and voice-recognition equipment. What might have a been a campy characterization for the time -- Ed Begley's blustery, right-wing loon -- is all too terribly real in an age of wealthy demagogues who preach God in one breath and utter destruction of their enemies, real and imagined, in the other. Caine is, as always, impeccable as Palmer, the cynical, reluctant spy, though Karl Malden matches him as scheming collaborator Leo Newbegin, but the lovable Oscar Holmoka steals the show once again as the Russian, Stok, ironically Harry's only true friend in the business. Francoise Dorleac is lovely, and familiar character actors Milo Sperber and Vladek Sheybal round out a good cast. Director Ken Russell does some interesting things with the camera and even manages to infuse adult subtext into scenes that don't require it. (Consider the discovery of the body of Dr. Kaarna, for instance, killed by an amorous female assassin, and what she must have been doing to him to pull it off.) The film's score by Richard Rodney Bennet is a bit of a letdown, at times shrill, and there is an emptiness to the production that matches the coldness of the locations, but "Billion Dollar Brain" stays consistent in its aesthetics and its vision."
The Last Great of a Great Series
doctorwholittle | Here | 01/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Working class "spy" Harry Palmer, deftly portrayed by actor supreme Sir Michael Caine, returns in the third & final instalment of the original series of Len Deighton novels-to-film ("Bullet to Beijing" & "Midnight in St Petersburg" came almost three decades later, & therefore aren't in the "original" series).
Deighton's "Spy w/ No Name" (dubbed "Harry Palmer" by Sir Michael & producer Harry Saltzman for their series of films) was initially created to topple, ironically enough, Saltzman's other cash cow, the James Bond series, by depicting a more realistic version of the Cloak & Dagger game. Palmer is the antithesis of 007; working class, a bit of a layabout, & a convicted criminal pressed into service by the British government instead of doing hard time in prison. Had Saltzman been able to maintain the momentum, it's very likely that Palmer would be as recogniseable as Bond to this day. Unfortunately, with production & distribution companies changing with every film, it was difficult to keep the series off the ground. A 4th Palmer film, based on Deighton's book, "Horse Under water", unfortunately never materialised.
This final instalment reveals Palmer as an independent agent, so to speak. Having tired of being used as Col. Ross' pawn, Palmer sets up shop as a private investigator, but is, once again, forced back into service by Ross when Palmer's presence is linked directly to a murder scene. As always, Palmer is deliberately kept in the dark by his "superiors" & must manage to suss out what's really going on on his own.
"Billion Dollar Brain" is quite a different feel from "The IPCRESS File" & "Funeral in Berlin", in that it's more Bond-like than the others; the budget is bigger, locales & sets are more elaborate, the plot more grandiose, the villain more colourful. Fortunately, Palmer never becomes 007 despite all the trappings, & therefore, never becomes a parody of himself. We're treated to an everyday bloke trying to figure out what in hell is going on about him, right along with the audience.
Karl Malden & Ed Begley turn in fine performances (a bit over the top for Begley, but nothing that detracts from the overall viewing experience), & the delightful return of Guy Doleman as the unflappable Col Ross is welcome for strictly hissing & booing value.
It's truly unfortunate that "B$B" never really made as enormous an impression on audiences as the other Palmer outings, as it was, in many ways, indicative that the series was continuing to get better as it went. Makes one wonder what "Horse Under Water" would've been like had it been made.
One of the major complaints about this long-awaited DVD release is that a scene which features The Beatles' song "A Hard Day's Night" has been edited out. It makes no sense for MGM to have done that when they could just as easily have inserted an equally memorable '60s song, or at worst, tacked on pedestrian instrumental music in its stead (ala the disappointing exclusion of "Nights in White Satin" from the DVD release of "Wiseguy"). I'm fortunate enough to have found an uncut, remastered letterboxed copy of "B$B" a few years ago, so I can enjoy the film in its pristine state.
All in all, if you're a Palmer fan, rejoice in the fact that this movie has finally been released to DVD, despite the deletion of the aforementioned scene, as well as the lack of any bonus material. It's a great romp & an excellent swansong to an excellent series of films."
vlad48 | Vancouver, BC | 11/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ken Russell's razor-sharp direction whips Harry Palmer through snow-swept Helsinki and Latvia while being pursued by Russian agents and Texas zealots. This tongue-in-cheek tour de force loses a full star, however, for slashing a frantic sequence during which the Beatles are featured on the soundtrack. Evidently Michael Jackson must have wanted too much cash for the copyright fees to the music, so we are stuck with an incomplete version of the film. It's not a long sequence, but it's like tearing a small piece off a famous painting - the movie is not quite the same. Otherwise, the icy ending (shades of Alexander Nevsky), the delicious Francois Dorleac, the wizened Oscar Homalka, the greasy Karl Malden and the unflappable Michael Caine are fun to spend time with. And one final word - the visions of fanatical oil-rich Texans convinced they can change other parts of the world because they have wealth and "god on their side" once seemed a caricature but now seems all too real."