Billion Dollar Brain

Released 1967




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Movie Summary

Ken Russell

Secret agent Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) investigates a fanatically right-wing American general whose private army plans to invade Russia - which might start World War III.

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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (4)

    • This was the first major feature film credit for the eminent cameraman Billy Williams, who would go on to photograph such famous films as "Women In Love", "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", "The Wind And The Lion" and "Gandhi", which won him an Oscar. He was a late replacement for the legendary Robert Krasker ("Odd Man Out", "The Third Man", "El Cid" and many others), who was recruited by producer Harry Saltzman to bring prestige to the film. Ken Russell, the director, fell out with Krasker during pre-production and insisted on his friend Williams, with whom he had worked on commercials. Krasker never photographed a feature film again.

    • The music which brings the Oscar Homolka character to tears in the concert hall sequence is Dimitri Shostakovich's "Leningrad Symphony".

    • Although Donald Sutherland has only a brief on-screen role in this film as a scientist, he has a second, more important and uncredited role - as the voice of "the Brain", the billion-dollar computer of the title.

    • This was the third and most expensive of the films in which Michael Caine played the working-class spy Harry Palmer (a character who is in fact nameless in Len Deighton's original novels). Whereas "The Ipcress File", the first of the three, had been a huge hit in 1965, elevating Caine to stardom, and the second, "Funeral In Berlin" (1966), had at least returned a solid profit on the initial investment, this was a resounding critical and box-office flop. There were no further Harry Palmer films, but Caine returned to the character in a couple of opportunistic TV movies (not based on Deighton novels) in the 1990s.

  • QUOTES (3)

  • NOTES (2)

    • Ken Russell often complained of the terrible time he had making this film, which he attributed to the interference of producer Harry Saltzman. Years later, he included an unsympathetic character named "Mr. Saltzman" in his film, "Savage Messiah". However, he also told interviewer John Baxter that, whilst he had "spent years apologising for the film", he had seen "Billion Dollar Brain" on television in the early 1970s and realised that it was actually a good movie. This parallels the discovery of many of the film's devotees - it became popular mainly through television showings, having been originally a box-office flop.

    • Ken Russell agreed to make this film, he claimed, in order to have a commercial cinema feature to his name. (Despite his fame in television, his only previous cinema feature, "French Dressing" in 1964, had been a considerable flop). A movie hit, it was thought, would enable producer Harry Saltzman to obtain financing for a projected movie about the life of Nijinsky, which Russell was particularly keen to make. But Russell and Saltzman were at loggerheads throughout the filming, "Billion Dollar Brain" turned out to be a flop, and Russell never made his Nijinsky movie - although Saltzman did, in 1980, with Herbert Ross directing.


    • The early scene where Harry visits a Ferris wheel in order to contact Anya is an allusion to Carol Reed's famous thriller, "The Third Man", where Joseph Cotten is given similar instructions for his meeting with Orson Welles. However, the Ferris wheel in "Billion Dollar Brain" turns out to be a small, broken-down wooden item in a shabby amusement park.

    • The climax of this film, in which tanks sink beneath the ice of a frozen Finnish lake, is a clear reference to the "battle on the ice" which climaxes Sergei Eisenstein's famous film "Alexander Nevsky".

More Info About This Movie


Thrillers, Espionage, Classics