Saturday 11 September 2010

Michael Caine on the erroneous return of Harry Palmer

(c) Ian Derry
Interesting article in the Daily Mail this weekend - a long career retrospective interview with 78-year-old Michael Caine, film star and English hero.

The piece, written by Caine, talks about some of his struggles in the middle part of his career when great characters started to dry up and his career was at a crossroads ... which his decision to film On Deadly Ground with martial arts champion Steven Seagal in 1994 did little to address.

The year after, during this career slump, he talks about revisiting an old friend - his character of Harry Palmer, which he'd made internationally famous in the sixties with The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion-Dollar Brain.

Interestingly, Caine says his decision to go back over old ground "almost finished me off". Some interesting experiences with the local Russian Mafia and the Russian security forces had Caine questioning quite what he was doing:
"The filming itself was a joke. The final blow came when we were shooting in the Lenfilm studio itself. I wanted to go to the toilet and they directed me to it. I could smell it 50 yards away and it was the filthiest lavatory I have ever seen."
That seems an appropriate reference. Both Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St. Petersburg are pretty poor films, and not a great legacy in light of the earlier masterpieces which put Deighton's unnamed spy on a cinematic par with Bond.

Though billed as Len Deighton's Bullet to Beijing, the film script was written by Peter Wellbeck and, of the two movies, this is the better, though both are dragged down by Jason Connery's wooden acting (his performance giving the lie to the idea that star quality passes down in the genes).

Len Deighton is involved as a co-writer of the script for Midnight in St. Petersburg, though the idea is not based on any existing Len Deighton novel. There is ample evidence to suggest that much of Midnight in St. Petersburg is cobbled together with edited-together out-takes from the earlier Bullet to Beijing filming, and the storyline is definitely threadbare.
Midnight in St. Petersburg, is actually a made-for-TV movie was produced for a pay-TV channel in the states, Showtime, part of the deal with Caine being that he would only make it if the big-budget movie - Bullet to Beijing - was made alongside it. It shows - it has the feel of a straight-to-cable movie.

The nature of this deal gives an idea of where Caine's career was at the time. Not in a great place. Possibly at an end. But as the rest of the article recounts, thereafter Caine saw an upswing in his career with meatier roles leading up to his Oscar winning performance in The Cider House Rules in 1998.

Very interesting article.


  1. Hmm. How did I miss out on this one ? :) . Sir Michael - like the on screen Palmer - surely knew what he was doing ! The only attractive thing about both movies - if one can call it that - are the locations in the then newly 'open' Russia.

  2. I thought one of the other most attractive things in the movie was Mia Sara!