||It could have been the start of
a wealthy career for Russell, his second film
commissioned by the James Bond producer Harry Saltzman,
story by novelist Len Deighton and with Michael Caine
starring in his third Harry Palmer role. But
the film shows little sign of talent, and you might be
mistaken in thinking Russell could make television but
not cinema. The pace is too fast with scene, location and
plot twist following relentlessly. It is Russell's only action
film apart from Dogboys. The obituary of Karl Malden in The
Times 3 Jul 2009 describes Billion Dollar Brain as the film that
torpedoed the Harry Palmer series.
|| There is some Bergman-like close photography of faces but it comes across as
pretentious. Michael Caine plays his usual
bespectacled detective/spy role without any
In the sauna wearing a large fur coat he
claims to be hot but he doesn't sweat. Awaking among a
pile of dead bodies (the people he had partied with the
night before) the feeling is of the inconvenience of
crawling out rather than revulsion or sorrow.
The plot concerns a computer (predictably the
billion dollar brain), eggs, taking over the world etc
etc etc. The computer will be used to help spread a virus,
but not a computer virus, the old fashioned human virus.
In the credits the title is also given in digits though the number is well above a billion (even above a
British billion) having 18 zeroes. The plot meanders from London to Finland and
to studio Russia and studio America. But the Finnish
locations are not used well and could just as well be
London. There is a rich Texan anti-communist General
Midwinter ("now is the winter of our
discontent") who wants to start a revolution in
Latvia. He has some of the phobias of anti-Communist
General Jack Ripper from Dr Strangelove (minor actor Paul Tamarin plays
The army on the move look more like a
group of people starting an expensive caravan
holiday, and the large cast often doesn't work: the
opposite of his television work- how to
make a large cast seem tiny. The coup fails when
Soviet planes bomb the ice and his army sinks under the water.
Russell regulars Vladek Sheybal
(Boyfriend, The Debussy Film etc), Alexei Jawdokimov (Isadora, The
Music Lovers) and Iza Teller (Christina Rosetti in Dante´s Inferno,
as well as Isadora and The Devils) have minor roles.
Stanley Caine (Michael's brother) has an appearance. Cinematography Billy
Williams, Editor Alan Osbiston. The writer is John
McGrath who also wrote Russell's Diary of a Nobody. It
is based on Len Deighton´s novel. In the novel the girl
is younger "she ran across the airport like a newly
born antelope unsteady on its legs". Original music is by film and
classical composer Richard Rodney Bennett. The piano is
especially effective. A Beatles song, A Hard Days Night, is also
used, one of the few occasions a Beatles song has been used in a film.
Copyright restrictions and costs may have caused difficulties
in re-releasing the film.
||Children on a
Finnish windmill-like swing, black against a
frozen lake (Mindbender has a similar image on
||The woman in black
framed in the silhouette of a black house and tree. There
are various black and white images in this colour film.
Michael Caine traps an
intruder who has just picked up a packet of Corn Flakes.
"Put your hands up": as he does so the cereals
from the corn flake packet fall slowly to the ground. But
the scene is a bit too forced.
Caine squares up to the burly soldier
who strips for a fight, but it turns out he is only stripping for a
||The scene on the ice is
a homage to Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky. The film is
mentioned in the novel.
The horsemen emerging
from a haze
in the white snow is similar to Dr Zhivago.
sailors wear their "Death in Venice" sailor
A record in Harry
Palmer's room is the music of Berlioz, more the choice
of Russell than Palmer. The Russian commander meets
Palmer at a performance of Shostakovich's Leningrad
There are numerous train
journeys including a steam train.
The computers are similar to those in Fritz Lang's
The elements play a role, with
fireballs dropping from the sky, and ice turning to water.
holocaust imagery of the dead bodies in the bath.
There is a film within the film.
Other films released in the same year include Bonnie and Clyde
and The Graduate.