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Film / Billion Dollar Brain

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"Some games are more dangerous than others."

Billion Dollar Brain is a 1967 Spy Film directed by Ken Russell, based on the novel by Len Deighton. It is the third of the Harry Palmer series starring Michael Caine, following Funeral in Berlin. Françoise Dorléac, Karl Malden, Oskar Homolka, and Ed Begley also star. It was the last theatrical movie of the series, followed by a pair of made-for-television films 18 years later.

Now a private detective, Harry Palmer receives a mysterious phone call from an anonymous client tasking him with transporting an an apparently innocent Thermos flask to an old friend in Helsinki.

Palmer begins to question his friend's motives, and he quickly gets caught up in a conspiracy involving biological weapons and a megalomaniacal Texas oil billionaire who plots to overthrow Communism with the help of a powerful supercomputer.


Billion Dollar Brain is the last film of actress Françoise Dorléac, who died several months before release in a car accident.

Billion Dollar Brain contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Name Change: Leo Newbigen was named "Harvey Newbegin" in the original novel.
  • Comedic Sociopath: Midwinter. His borderline-genocidal ravings go from hilarious, to disturbing, to hilarious again.
  • The Chessmaster: General Midwinter. Subverted, since he's actually being undermined by his supposed allies.
  • Chummy Commies: Stok.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Midwinter is convinced Communists are single-handedly responsible for all of America's ills, including air pollution, much to Palmer and Stok's amusement.
  • Denser and Wackier: Compared to the gritty, grounded Stale Beer Flavored stories of the previous films, Billion Dollar Brain cranks the "wacky" dial up much higher, with a plot that involves supercomputers, Artificial Intelligence, and the series' first real supervillain - a wealthy industrialist trying to overthrow Communism with his own private army. A lot of this can be laid at the feet of director Ken Russell's considerably-more eccentric sensibilities compared to his predecessors, but a many of the zany plot elements were in Len Deighton's original novel.
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  • Double Agent: Anya.
  • General Ripper: General Midwinter is an absurdly wealthy Texan oil billionaire who commands a private army of mercenaries with the goal of overthrowing the Latvian government and, ultimately, Communism itself.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The bombers that Colonel Stok sends to sink the convoy are actually English Electric Canberra.
  • MacGuffin: The viral eggs.
  • Private Eye: At the beginning of the film, Harry Palmer has left the intelligence business to become one, though his old boss quickly drags him back in.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spy Fiction: Oscillates between Stale Beer and Dirty Martini. On the one hand, the more flamboyant visuals place it closer to a Bond film from the same time period, and the the technology on display borders into light Spy Fi. On the other hand, said tech, though certainly certainly advanced for the time, is far from implausible and practically quaint by today's standards. The titular "Billion Dollar Brain" is a roughly on par with real signals intelligence systems that would be in use just a few years later.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailer gives the impression the film is a science-fiction movie about an evil computer that attempts to take over the world; in fact it's about an British ex-MI5 agent who stumbles across a Texan oil billionaire's attempt to foment counter-revolution in Latvia; the eponymous computer is used to run his business empire and only appears in one brief scene.
  • World War III: Palmer realizes Midwinter's plan would unavoidably cause this, and races against the clock to stop it.


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