Michael Caine …. Harry Palmer
Karl Malden …. Leo Newbigen
Ed Begley …. Gen. Midwinter
Oskar Homolka …. Col. Stok
FranÃƒÂ§oise DorlÃƒÂ©ac …. Anya
Guy Doleman …. Col. Ross
Vladek Sheybal …. Dr. Eiwort
Milo Sperber …. Basil
If you were a fan of Spy films, the 1960’s must have seemed like heaven. In 1962, James Bond broke on the scene for the first time with Dr. No. With the release of Goldfinger in 1964 and Thunderball in 1965, the craze known as “Spymania” took the film going community by storm. Every domestic and foreign studio raced to get their own 007 franchise off the ground. Bond knock off’s came out of the wood work such as the Our Man Flint and the Matt Helm series. Paramount released Mission: Impossible on television and classic British Spy series like The Prisoner and The Avengers made their debut. Even Toho Studios in Japan released thrillers such as the Bond-esque Key of Keys.
One of most successful franchises of the 1960’s was the series based on Len Deighton’s literary antihero Harry Palmer. First appearing in 1965’s The Ipcress File and developed by Bond Producer Harry Saltzman, the series was attempting to be the antithesis on 007’s fantastic adventures by providing grittier tales of espionage. Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer was not the smooth, sophisticate that Connery’s Bond was, he was a former crook given a new life as a spy. This is kind of like the formula for the xXx movies only with a lead that has won Oscars instead of Vin Diesel and Ice Cube.
In franchise’s third film, Billion Dollar Brain, Harry has quit MI-5, the British Secret Service. He’s running his own private detective agency when he gets an odd call to take package to Helsinki. The package is a thermos carrying a series of eggs and delivers them to an old friend named Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden).
Before you know it, Harry is thrown into a plot to start a revolution in the Soviet Union. Leo apparently works for a supremely wealthy man named General Midwinter (Ed Begley). Midwinter is a complete fanatic who has an intricate plan worked out by his own billion dollar super computer to overthrow communism all over the world.
Finding out that the eggs he delivered contain viruses that could start a complete epidemic, Harry has to stop the eggs from being distributed to strategic points in the U.S.S.R. General Midwinter has enough resources and men to even mount a small invasion force, so with the viruses let loose, the madman could roll in and start a revolution. Millions could die in the process.
Billion Dollar Brain is an intriguing and at times a captivating Spy thriller. Caine is perfect for the role of Harry Palmer and relishes every moment. Combining his street smarts with his wry charm, Caine is able to do variation on roles he would go on to have in films such as 1971’s Get Carter.
What really separates Palmer from Bond is how Caine is really able to emphasize how human he really is. Harry doesn’t stay in glamorous surroundings or have fantastic gadgets. Over and over Harry is put into less than sensational situations. One scene has Harry getting pelted with snow as he tries to pass a snowplow. Another has Harry waking up in a bathtub of dead bodies. It’s hard to imagine Sean Connery or Roger Moore’s Bond in similar situations.
Ed Begley plays General Midwinter way over the top, but it still works. His compound is in Texas and instead of having well dressed henchmen he’s got his men all wearing cowboy hats. They’re less than imposing to tell you the truth. Midwinter is a huge fanatic with dreams of wiping people off the face of the Earth in the name of “Freedom”, but in the end is too inept and foolhardy to carry out his plan properly. It’s odd how a film made years ago could still be relevant.
Helping out the film immeasurably is the gorgeous score by Richard Rodney Bennett. Its ambient sound completely envelops you in the situations on screen. Billion Dollar Brain‘s moments come when the music and images combine to give the film a dream like quality.
There are times when Billion Dollar Brain nearly reaches the brilliance of the early Bond films. The film is a great example of the types of Spy films that were coming out of the 1960’s. These would be wonderful films to update and give to a modern audience. Actors such as Jason Statham or Ewan McGregor, who are not exactly able to fit into the Bond archetype, could eat a role like Palmer up. For now, those that love Bond and other Spymania examples would do well to check out Million Dollar Brain.
Considering this is just a catalogue release for MGM/Sony, it’s amazing this film has as good a picture as it does. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The picture is very clear and seems to be free of errant grain or shadow.
The film’s mono track is a bit underwhelming. It’s too bad too, as the mesmerizing soundtrack is wasted on this sub par DVD.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers
Theatrical Trailers for Out of Time and Walking Tall – Not sure why these are on here because they aren’t Spy films or really have anything to do with Billion Dollar Brain at all.