Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day 13: “Billion Dollar Brain”

Director: Ken Russell 1967
The third and last of the Harry Palmer spy thrillers from the 60s (coming after “The Ipcress File” and “Funeral in Berlin”). Based on Len Deighton’s novel, “Brain” is an entertaining movie in which Palmer is so passive a secret agent that he never once fires his gun. Michael Caine brings his patented, bespectacled cool to the role, which fits him as snugly as Palmer’s wrinkled raincoat. Supporting him are Oscar Homolka, as a wily Russian, and Karl Malden as a not-quite-so-wily American who’s working for a wacky Texas oil tycoon using his dough to fund anti-Communist activities. The plot involves a super-computer (the size of the TWA terminal) and an invasion of Latvia.
The often flamboyant Russell, in one of his early films, is on best behavior here, offering some nice, gruesome touches: a knocked-out Caine awakens in a bathtub filled with corpses; the face and eyeglasses of a man killed near an open window are dusted with frost from the frigid Helsinki weather.
Palmer was presented as the anti-Bond. He was often as concerned about his civil service ranking as the case at hand, a Cockney at war with his twittish, public school superiors. The production designer on “Billion Dollar Brain” was Syd Cain, who was the art director on the early Bonds. “Brain” at times has a weird Bondian look—but Caine always brings the proceedings down to the more realistic world of spies as created by Deighton. A fun two hours.


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