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Billion Dollar Brain  

Review: written 2007

Over the top 60's spy movie

Over the top can be a positive thing. For decades Bond movies 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 largely 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, may well 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.

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