Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Harry Palmer, former spy for MI5, is now a disheveled unsuccessful detective, but Ross, his former handler, breaks into his office one night to try and entice him back for a mission, to no avail. Instead, Harry gets a request, via a computerized voice on the phone, to pick up a thermos filled with eggs and deliver it to a Dr. Karnaa in Helsinki. But the delivery is made to a sexy woman (Anya) and her American lover (Leo) who live all alone on an island; Karnaa is dead and the eggs are being taken to a Texas oil millionaire (General Midwinter) who leads a fascist militia group called Crusade for Freedom. Their goal: to lead an armed invasion of Russia, which will be accomplished when Leo's vast army of spies disable the military with deadly viruses (from the eggs) and foment a people's revolt. The eggs were stolen from the British, so Palmer winds up working with Ross from MI5 anyway. Eventually, they end up in Texas where Palmer finds out that Leo has been cheating Midwinter, taking money intended for the army of spies and spending it on himself. Still, the millionaire leads a small band of troops to Russia for an armed invasion, from which, of course, no good will come.

This is the third of three Harry Palmer spy movies, based on books by Len Deighton and starring Michael Caine. Ken Russell directed this, his first major film, without the flamboyant over-the-top features he would bring to THE DEVILS, ALTERED STATES, and LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, but with a keen eye for landscapes, color, and lighting—check out the noir style-drenched opening scene—and the finale, in which the fascists, to a man, die out on the ice against a handful of Russian planes, is spectacular. The plot is easy to follow in the beginning, gets rather convoluted in the middle, but stick with it: all you really need to remember is that the Russians are the good guys this time. The only real plot problem I had involved the French femme fatale Anya (Francoise Dorleac); it's impossible to keep track of whose side she’s really on, and the end revelation that she’s been working for MI5 all along makes absolutely no sense. The location shooting in snowy Finland is lovely. Caine is good as is Karl Malden as Leo; Oscar Homolka is a Russian friend of Palmer's, and Ed Begley Sr. (pictured with Caine) is a real scene-stealer as the loony Midwinter, whose company's logo consists of the letters "MW" stylized into something close to a swastika. This isn't as serious as a LeCarre film would be, not as outrĂ© as the Bond movies.  It strikes its own unique tone and is well worth seeing.  [TCM]

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