Billion Dollar Brain

Michael Caine still

Director: Ken Russell
Screenwriter: John McGrath
Starring: Michael Caine, Karl Malden, Ed Begley, Oscar Homolka, Françoise Dorleac
Release details: United Artists, UK 1967, 111 mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Cold War thriller
Rating: 7 out of 10

Choosing Ken Russell as director of the third Harry Palmer film was a bizarre choice and, while he delivers one of his more restrained cinematic outings, that's not saying much. Billion Dollar Brain is therefore the most outlandish of the Palmer films, shot in glorious, often ludicrous, technicolour, with a sense of humour that strays more into Bond/In Like Flint territory than the other films.

The plot is thin to say the least: Harry Palmer this time finds himself on the trail of Ed Begley's megalomaniac who plans to take over the world with his private army. Harry gets himself shot at, double crossed by the mysterious Dorleac, dragged across the frozen tundra of Finland and kidnapped by Begley, before saving the day.

Filmed on location in Finland, during one of the coldest winters on record, this was a miserable shoot for most of the cast and sometimes that shows in the performances. Caine's Harry is nothing if not a malcontent, but he looks on the verge of murder in some of the snowier scenes (especially as he did most of his own stunts).

The film is undeniably fun, though, and its dated quality is actually quite charming. The Billion Dollar Brain is a computer as big as a football pitch, which spits out little printed cards. It was probably a sexy, state-of-the-art machine at the time, but now it's just so lame, that it's hard to take it seriously.

It doesn't help the credibility of the enterprise that Begley is so totally over-the-top, although it does add to the cartoonish feeling that Russell has achieved. Of course, it's almost impossible to watch Begley and not think of that other great criminal mastermind, Dr Evil, especially when the words "one billion dollars" are bandied about.

Compared to the nightmare of Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersburg that would befall Harry/Caine in the 1990s, this seems like Shakespeare in comparison.

The stats

UK release date 21 Jan 1968
US release date 20 Dec 1967
UK box office -
US box office -
UK cinema certificate A
UK VHS/DVD certificate PG
US MPAA rating none

Sources: IMDb, The Numbers, BBFC, MPAA
About ratings and certificates.


The female lead, Françoise Dorleac, was the sister of Catherine Deneuve and sadly died in a car accident shortly after completing this film.

According to Kees Stam, the reason that Billion Dollar Brain was unavailable on VHS or DVD for so many years was due to the use of Beatles' copyrighted music on the soundtrack. Apparently, it was prohibitively expensive to license the Beatles' music.

In addition to a appearing briefly as a computer scientist who works on the Brain, shuffling little cards, CitizenCaine favourite Donald Sutherland also contributes the voice of the computer.


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 entries for other Harry Palmer films:

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)