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Yes, It's Great To See Michael Caine, But...
on July 10, 2001
I was very excited when I first read that Michael Caine would return to the role of Harry Palmer in not just one, but two made-for-cable-TV films for Showtime networks. But after the announcement was made it was a few years before they actually aired.
I was wary when I learned that one of the producers was Harry Alan Towers. This is the man who made three versions of Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS, each progressively worse than the last. Peter Welbeck, who scripted two of those versions, wrote the screenplay for BULLET TO BEIJING.
When the two movies, BULLET and MIDNIGHT IN ST. PETERSBURG, finally aired I was disappointed. Caine looks good, but he doesn't have the same verve. Some characters just don't age well. Palmer was always a bit of a dupe in the earlier films (IPCRESS FILE, FUNERAL BERLIN, and BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN), but here he seems particularly dull-witted. It looks like the majority of the budget went to Caine and location shooting, because it didn't go for editing or photography. And the score by Rick Wakeman almost sinks the project.
Casting is nice, but even though the two films were directed by different men, it is obvious they were filmed at the same time, with many of the same supporting players, including the less than impressive Jason Connery. Fans of the Len Deighton novels know that Harry Palmer is not the name of the character in the books (his name is never revealed), and that the name Harry Palmer was an invention of the filmmakers (including Harry Saltzman who co-produced the early Bond films). In BULLET TO BEIJING, the title reads Len Deighton's BULLET TO BEIJING - which is a misnomer because the story is based on nothing by Deighton, and it is doubtful he was ever involved in any way, shape or form.
IPCRESS FILE is on tape and DVD, and FUNERAL IN BERLIN will be availble on DVD in August. And I am still waiting for MGM/UA to wise up and release BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN, which to my knowledge has never been out on home video. With the first two theatrical releases availanle, why settle for bargain basement, imitation Palmer?