The Curator of Schlock #270 by Jeff Shuster
Billion Dollar Brain
Michael Caine messes with Texas.
Thumper once said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or was that his mother? Regardless, we need to talk about filmmakers in the 1960s. Someone or multiple people working on these productions were on dope. Haschisch, Angel Dust, maybe a little bit of Mary Jane (the drug, not Spider-Man’s girlfriend). I’ve had a dandy of a time trying to follow these Harry Palmer films for the past couple of weeks. Tonight’s feature is Billion Dollar Brain, which has the most coherent plot of the three. And the movie isn’t a complete snooze fest, but this is a weird one.
Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) has decided to become a private investigator much to the chagrin of his former boss over at the Ministry of Defence. Harry isn’t making much of living as a P.I., surviving on Kellog’s Corn Flakes. One night, he gets a phone call, an automated message asking him to take a thermos full of eggs to Helsinki, Finland for a couple hundred pounds. There he meets an attractive woman named Anya (Françoise Dorléac) and an old friend from the United States, Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden). I guess Leo is Harry Palmer’s Felix Leiter, except he works for a mysterious organization and receives his espionage orders from a supercomputer in Texas that cost one billion dollars to build.
Yes, it’s the one billion dollar brain.
Now it’s obvious that the organization Leo is working for is nefarious since the eggs Harry was transporting are filled with deadly viruses. But to what end? Harry is drafted back into the Ministry of Defence, but told to stay with Leo and dig deeper into this mysterious organization. This organization has serious interest in Latvia.
Harry travels to Latvia to do something for this organization.
I’m not sure what. Attend a meeting?
While staying in hotel, he runs into his old Soviet friend, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka), who tells him to stay away from this meeting. It seems this organization Harry is involved in is interested starting an anti-Communist revolution in Latvia.
Harry and Leo end up in Texas where they run into General Winter, an oil tycoon played by Ed Begley. Hey, I bet that actor is the father of Ed Begley, Jr. Anyway, General Winter is a patriotic American and a proud Texan, but there’s something that really sticks in his craw and that’s communism. He goes on a megalomaniacal rant about how much he hates Godless communists and the chickens in Washington, D.C. who don’t want to drive it from the face of the earth. General Winters created a giant super computer to tell him how to do this. Leo was to carry out the machine’s orders, hire a bunch of men to infiltrate the military in Latvia, and unleash deadly viruses on the communist soldiers to pave the way for General Winters’ private army to invade.
Unfortunately, Leo pocketed the cash and never hired those secret agents. General Winters invades Latvia and there’s fear he may bring about World War III. General Winters’ convoy crosses a frozen Baltic Sea, but Colonel Stok is well aware the invasion plans. Stok drops bombs on the ice, cracking it and sending General Winters and his army of proud Texans into a watery grave. Harry survives to learn that the beautiful Anya was working for Stok all along.
Maybe she should have been the main character of this motion picture. How was this thing pitched? The Texans are the villains, the Soviets seem sort of reasonable, and the British spy is ineffectual. Thus closes the Harry Palmer trilogy.
Have a nice weekend!
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47, episode 102, episode 124, episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.
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