Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Billion Dollar Brain


A billion dollars didn’t buy you much of a computer, by today’s standards. This one used huge spools of jerky magnetic tape (!) and cardboard punch cards (!!!!). I imagine it had about as much computing power as your average microwave oven these days. But it filled a gigantic set, and Honeywell was proud to put its name on the side of the units. Well, why not? It was state of the art at the time.

This is the third of five films (the last two made-for-TV movies made much later than this) of Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer stories. The books were a bit more serious than this movie. While it’s not exactly played for laughs, I don’t think anyone intended for it to be taken very seriously, either, just like James Bond. Here, a fanatical anti-Communist billionaire from Texas (where else?) plans an invasion of Latvia, of all places. I’ll bet most Americans couldn’t point to Latvia on a map. Harry has to somehow stop him. It is a very lavish production, and must have cost a bundle. Much of it was filmed outdoors in Finland during the winter, and I’ll bet Michael Caine had his fill of snow before the shooting was over.

This was one of Ken Russell’s first feature films, done for hire just before he made Women in Love and put himself on the cinema map as someone with a voice of his own. That voice is seen here only as some chaotic shots and little editing touches. Co-starring is Karl Malden, Oskar Homolka, and Françoise Dorléac, who I was surprised to learn was the elder sister of Catherine Deneuve. Then I was horrified to learn that, just after completing this movie, she burned to death in a car wreck. The body was unrecognizable. And she was just beginning to be recognized as an actress. What a pity.