Midnight in St Petersburg (1996)

screenshot from Midnight in St Petersburg

Directed by: Doug Jackson
Screenwriter(s): Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck)
Starring: Michael Caine, Jason Connery, Michael Gambon, Michael Sarrazin, Lev Prygunov,
Genre: Spy / Thriller
Country: UK / RUS / CAN
Running time: 1h 23m
Rating: 3 out of 10

Following on from Bullet to Beijing, it’s the mid-1990s and Harry Palmer (guess who?) is now plying his trade as a private detective in Moscow, with employees Nick (Jason Connery) and Mike (Michael Sarrazin), both of whom we met last time, and new associate Gradsky (Prygunov), a former KGB colonel.

The plot? Well, Nikolai’s girlfriend, Tatiana (the director’s wife Tanya Jackson in her first and only role), is a ballerina whose father is curator at the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. She gets kidnapped from a restaurant (oddly remininscent of Robbie Coltrane’s dive in GoldenEye) and her father is blackmailed into stealing paintings from the museum to secure her release. This plot becomes intertwined with the old chestnut of stolen weapons-grade plutonium which Harry has been hired to track down. Minor characters are killed and laughable plot ‘twists’ are thrown in before the final denoument which anyone could work out from about 20 minutes in.

It’s hard to pick the worst flaw of this film. Too many characters are crammed in, perhaps in a misguided effort to distract you from the glaringly obvious holes in the script. Many of the performances are laughable. The direction is plodding in the extreme. And whoever was in charge of Michael Caine’s wardrobe should be shot, as he is saddled with bad polo necks and cheap anoraks.

On the bright side, it’s a mild improvement over Bullet to Beijing and at least poor Harry Palmer gets to retire at last and the film does make very good use of access to beautiful location shots. But, frankly, this sub-standard thriller would not have made the grade as a TV special of Murder She Wrote, although it would have been an immensely more entertaining spectacle to see Jessica Fletcher running around St Petersburg. Or, more likely, southern California masquerading as St Petersburg.

The Harry Palmer Collection