The third of Michael Caine’s 60s Harry Palmer trilogy (after 1965’s The Ipcress File and 1966’s Funeral in Berlin), Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain is a visual and aural treat. The movie even boasts great opening credits:
With crisp winter scenes, groovy split screens and a terrific score by Richard Rodney Bennett (very nice use of theremin), the picture is a million miles from the drab atmosphere of the two previous installments, and is well worth checking out.
Plotwise, it’s no great shakes, with Caine’s non-plussed MI5 agent once again forced undercover to foil a plot by an Texan computer-obsessed oil tycoon to invade Latvia As you do.
Palmer regulars Guy Doleman (as Palmer’s snotty boss) and Oscar Homolka (playing a KGB colonel) turn up, with some ripe performances from Karl Malden (as an old buddy) and Ed Begley as the barmy Texan General Midwinter.
Donald Sutherland also puts in an appearance as the voice of a mechanical phone service and as a computer technician in Begley’s employ. The late Françoise Dorléac (elder sister of Catherine Deneuve) stars as double agent Anya, and very good she is too. Her promising career was tragically cut short by a fatal traffic accident the same year, which sadly made BDB her final film role.
Dorléac also starred in Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac (1966) and Truffaut’s La Peau Douce (1964).
Unfortunately Caine was tempted back to the role of Palmer in two lousy TV movies filmed back to back in the 90s -- Bullet to Beijing (1995) and Midnight in St Petersburg the following year. Which got me thinking…post-Brexit, is it time for Palmer to be rebooted, with a skint small-time spy in a scary new world…?
Let me hear from the Palmer fans out there!