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Bullet to Beijing

movie still

Director: George Mihalka
Screenwriter: Harry Alan Towers
Starring: Michael Caine, Jason Connery, Mia Sara, Michael Sarrazin, Michael Gambon
Release details: US TVM 1995, 105mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Spy thriller
Rating: 3 out of 10

Bullet to Beijing is the first of two TV movies for the US Showtime Network filmed back to back, the second being Midnight in St Petersburg. The films are such a betrayal of the spirit and quality of the original Harry Palmer trilogy, that you'll wish Harry had died at the end of Billion Dollar Brain, rather than endure this ignominious end.

Beijing introduces us to some characters that will crop up in Midnight: Jason Connery as Nikolai Federov, Michael Sarrazin as ex-CIA agent Mike Craig, Sir Michael Gambon as Russian crime boss, Alex, and Anatoly Davidov as another gangster, Yuri. Connery, to his credit, does not attempt a Russian accent, instead opting to go down the Van Damme route of retaining his own accent and offering a ludricrous explanation for this. But poor Sarrazin, meanwhile, must wonder where his career has gone since the heights of appearing alongside Barbra Streisand in the 70s (in For Pete's Sake) as his role consists mainly of looking shady and popping up unexpectedly.

The female roles are so superfluous that you wondered why they bothered to include Connery's then-wife, Mia Sara, at all. She essays the female lead, Natasha, who may or may not be working on the same side as everyone else. And, given the high number of low-quality performances on show, she fares none too badly. You can't say the same for Sue Lloyd (The Ipcress File, Crossroads), who's listed in the credits but only appears as a voice in a phone conversation at the beginning. (By the way, if you want to see her now, she can be found at UK TV and movie memorabilia fairs hawking her autograph for a tenner. Given the vast amount of bad plastic surgery she appeared to have undergone, she really does need your money.)

The film opens with Harry Palmer (of course, Michael Caine) seeing a Russian being killed outside the North Korean Embassy in London. In one of the clunkiest pieces of exposition ever brought to the screen, he is almost immediately forced into early retirement from MI6, the victim of budget cuts, although this does give him the opportunity to say:

I have been involved in some very important cases - there was the Ipcress File affair, the funeral business in Berlin...

Inexplicably, he gets his first job offer almost before he's cleared out his desk. Russian gangster, Alex, wants Harry to work for him on a "matter of security" in return for $250,000. The how, why and wherefore of this is unimportant - at least it appears to be to the director, cast and scriptwriter - as what follows is a load of cloak and dagger tosh, a contrived mess surrounding a deal between Alex and the North Koreans over weapons and drugs. Everyone double crosses everyone else and all sense gets lost in the confusion.

And the bullet to Beijing? It's both the trans-Siberian express train and - as is mandatory in this type of thriller - also refers to a bullet which is being transported in someone's luggage to Beijing.

Although not fit to lick the boots of the original Harry Palmer films, the film gets a little credit for the sheer joy of seeing the two Sir Michaels hamming it up big style.

Links

The Harry Palmer Site: Kees Stam's outstanding tribute to the Harry Palmer character, both in print and on screen, with articles, information on all the books and films, images, links. Highly recommended.

IMDb: Internet Movie Database entries for other Harry Palmer films:

There's a Mia Sara profile at the Save Ferris (Bueller) site

The James Bond, Agent 007, OHMSS site (an outstanding resource on not only the films but the various actors who have inhabited the roles) has a Jason Connery profile

Len Deighton: Guardian Unlimited guide to the best-selling author of the Harry Palmer books (although, until the films, the main character had no name)


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