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Harry Palmer has left the British Secret Service and become a private detective. One of his first assignments is to deliver an apparently innocent thermos flask to an old friend in Helsinki, Palmer is suspicious of the flask contents and begins to doubt the motives of his friend and those of his boss a Texan billionaire. Written by
Dave Jenkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Enjoyably witty spy movie with rare restraint from Russell in the director's chair
Some time has passed since Harry Palmer was in the employment of the British Government and he refuses to go back despite a 'friendly' offer from his old boss Colonel Ross. However when Harry takes a case on the basis of a mysterious call he winds up in Helsinki to meet a mysterious Dr only to meet his old colleague Leo Newbigen who invites him to join him on his most recent area of work. Harry suspects everything is not as it seems and investigates further only to find that he has stumbled into the middle of something big; a finding given greater validity by Ross kidnapping him and ordering him to infiltrate Newbigen's group and get to the bottom of a plot to bring down communism in Russia with the aid of a billion dollar supercomputer.
Having watched Tommy earlier the same day, I thought I was pushing my luck by watching two Ken Russell films in the same day surely I would hate at least one as a result of his excessive 'flair'? But no not only did I enjoy Tommy and this film, but also I was surprised to find that Russell had actually directed this pretty much straight down the line. So great was my surprise that Oliver Reed did not get naked and beat Palmer or that we had no masturbating nuns in the mix that I almost found the plot difficult to follow as I checked the IMDb to check that it was THAT Ken Russell. Almost found it difficult but happily I was able to pull myself together and focus on a plot that almost totally throws off the admin-focused world of Ipcress File and has a plot to kick off a revolution in a manner that could easily have a few car chases added to it to make it into a Bond movie. Despite this expansion, the plot is actually pretty sharp and witty if you remember that the communists are usually the bad guys then the film is making a very obvious point by having a ranting American seeking to destroy communism as the bad guy here! Today that is sharp but it must have been even more pointed in the mid-sixties!
While it gradually becomes too overblown to really be appreciated on the level of a 'serious' film, it is still pretty enjoyable, although it is apparent how Palmer has become more Bond-like with this third film than he was in the first (where he was almost the anti-Bond). It still stands up as a good spy movie but it may annoy people who loved Palmer in the Ipcress File simply because he has changed so very much. I'm not sure who caused this change but Caine seems happy with less of a grey little man and more of an international spy character and plays it well. He still has plenty of snide humour but also does the spy thing with a lot more style than was allowed him in Ipcress. Madden and Homolka both give very good support as Leo and Stok respectively, but the film is stolen at times by a wonderful performance from Ed Begley who manages to be both OTT and spot on at the same time!
Overall this is a good spy that starts in the realm of Ipcress File but ends up trying to be a sort of Bond-lite! This may annoy fans of the original Palmer but I enjoyed it and found it more than held my attention despite not doing anything too gripping. The performances are good and the film is made more enjoyable by the fact that the tables are turned on the normal situation with the communists working with Palmer while the baddie is none other than an American 'patriot' seeking to rid the world of 'the reds'!
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