FILMS… The Fourth Protocol (1987)

 

A Cat and Mouse Tale with the MI5 on the tail of a KGB Soviet Intelligence agent with a mission…

 

A Cold War film where the Soviets are intent on breaking up NATO by staging an “American” nuclear incident.

 

Fourth Protocol, Talking Pictures TV

 

The Fourth Protocol (1987) is another Cold War themed film from the 1980s and that can only mean one thing, that it is Finland standing in for Russia in these snowy scenes. In behind the scenes footage found HERE, it is mentioned it was filmed 200 miles from the Finnish-Russian Border.

The Fourth Protocol was one of three films his co-star Michael Caine made with an actor who played James Bond. This film was made three years before Bullseye (1990) with Englishman, Roger Moore and long after The Man That would be King (1975) with the Scottish Sean Connery.

In this film, it’s the turn of the Irishman who would play 007, Pierce Brosnan. Sadly, Brosnan and Caine only appear together in the final quarter of the movie. This gives you some kind of idea of just how much author and screenplay writer Frederick Forsyth lays on the suspense in this nearly two hour film. And then sadly it’s a case of actions, not words in their all too brief scenes together.

The opening to The Fourth Protocol tells how in 1968 a secret agreement was made between the Eastern and Western countries to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. The Fourth protocol states that the procurement of the materials needed for nuclear bombs must be delivered to their destination by conventional means only and not by other means.

Major Valeri Petrofsky (Brosnan), the star of the Soviet illegals programme in the KGB gets his latest mission from the chairman of the KGB, General Govorshin (Alan North). If Petrovsky is successful he is told he will be promoted and gain many rewards. Petrovsky has a direct order to keep this mission a secret from his colleagues. However, it seems a wee bit foreboding as Kim Philby is shot dead in the Soviet opening scene because he knows too much about this plan.

The plan is that Petrovsky is to move to the United Kingdom and live near an American airbase. There he will receive equipment – smuggled into the UK via couriers of all sorts – to put together a nuclear bomb. This bomb will be made with the help of his “wife” Irina – a bomb making expert -who will join him later. After the bomb is detonated, the aftermath of this incident will be blamed on the Americans and this act intended to strain their relationship with Britain. This will ultimately benefit the USSR.

Meanwhile, on Hogmanay, middle-aged, MI5 agent Harry Palmer John Preston (Caine) breaks into a safe at a party. He finds some jewellery and some Top Secret NATO documents. These documents are then reported to his senior at M15, Sir Nigel Irvine (Ian Richardson). After Preston and his buddies investigate this matter George Berenson (Anton Rodgers), a British government official is revealed as a mole giving secret NATO information to a South African contact who is in fact a Soviet spy.

It appears that Preston is a bit of a wild card, and did this work without the permission of his direct boss, Brian Harcourt-Smith (Julian Glover). Harcourt-Smith is humiliated and he promptly demotes Preston to “Airports and Ports”. During his work there, Preston investigates the identity of a Soviet who has been killed after he was hit by a truck after he disembarked from a boat in Glasgow.

The pathologist states that man appears not to be a seaman, and Preston discovers a polonium nuclear bomb detonator hidden in his belongings. Preston reports to his superiors about this matter, and he believes now that someone is collecting the materials needed to make this bomb. Preston is promptly suspended from his job by Harcourt-Smith, who claims this just a ruse orchestrated by Preston to get his old job back.

Preston is encouraged to investigate this incident further. He has the support of the head of MI5, Hemmings and his senior colleague, Irvine. Meanwhile, with alias James Edward Ross, Petrovsky has rented a house next to the American airbase. Over time, he has procured all the materials needed for this bomb by some pretty creative means (and this means he kills a few people along the way). Then he meets his “wife” Irina (Joanna Cassidy)…

This film was an interesting and captivating look into the work of MI5, KGB and their working methods during the Cold War. Both the protagonists were seen both professionally and in their home lives. This rounded look at these characters made them more human and their possible vulnerabilities were seen in different ways.

His role as Preston was just one of many British agents that Caine has played in his career to date. Others include Major Tarrant from The Black Windmill (1974) and Harry Palmer from The Ipcress File (1965).  Preston was seen as an older version of this latter spy Harry Palmer, that Caine portrayed in three films in the 1960s and twice later in his career. Like Palmer, Preston was outspoken with his superiors and his methods of working were often unorthodox.

As this film role was familiar territory for Caine, it was seen in his natural and now more mature performance. Preston – like Tennant – was a devoted single dad and had his son lives with him. This makes his character more vulnerable as this his only family, with Preston’s partner seen in a photo but not seen as a character in the film.

Caine shows a touching paternal rapport with his on-screen son. Caine also worked as executive producer alongside his friend, Frederick Forsyth. Both men party financed the movie and gave up their salaries to work together on this project.

Brosnan played a young and attractive KGB agent with his usual charm and charisma. His character as “James” won the attention of his neighbour’s wife who obviously fancied him. But he also was attractive to others in the movie.

Despite these attentions, Petrovsky was always the professional and he didn’t reciprocate her feelings, but it was clear this a hard choice to make. He seems vulnerable, as it appears that he is quite sexually frustrated. This suggested in a scene as this character observes a wife swap party from his home. Petrovsky’s rapport with his “wife”, an attractive redhead Irina was cool and professional (for a while anyway).

However Petrovsky also could be a much more ruthless character, and this trait not only for his part in this mission. Petrovsky reminded me of The Americans (2014-18) character Elizabeth Jennings. Like Elizabeth, who also worked for Soviet Intelligence, Petrovsky killed anyone who threatened his final goal and he left a surprising amount of corpses as he completed his mission.

Like her, he integrated himself well into the community without suspicions, such as going for drinks with an American serviceman and his wife. It did help that Brosnan used his own natural accent here when he talked with others (although the Soviet Ned Beatty sounded distinctly American) and in a nice comic touch, the men drink a Russian Mule. His performance was praised and fantastically described by Roger Ebert here as this was the…

best performance he has ever given, as a dark, brooding man with an outwardly cheerful disposition and a perfect British accent.

The Dailymotion clip – referred to earlier – reports this was Brosnan’s first major role in a film since he completed Remington Steele (1982-87). Brosnan himself listed many reasons for taking the part and he said it was due to it being “a very good role”,  a Michael Caine movie, and a Frederick Forsythe screenplay and book. He then jokingly adds;

and you can change the order around if you like…

He finally adds a fifth reason, that he had worked with the film director on his first feature film, The Long Good Friday (1980). I would argue these reasons make it a film to enjoy and to savour. But also throw in some more attributes such as the Finnish connection, those unexpected twists for both Preston and Petrofsky as seen in the later parts of the movie, Caine’s past role as Harry Palmer and Brosnan’s future role as James Bond. After all these ingredients are mixed together, they make a movie that’s the bomb.

Weeper Rating:   😦 😦  /10

Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10

Hulk Rating:     mrgreen‎/10

 

The Luck O the Irish Blogathon 2021, No 7

This film was added to The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society‘s  The Luck o’ the Irish Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Michael Caine in The Wrong Box, Educating Rita, Alfie and many more. Pierce Brosnan in Mars Attacks and Mamma Mia and its sequel. Anton Rodgers in Murder with Mirrors and The Man Who Haunted Himself.  Ian Richardson in From Hell.  Julian Glover in The Crown and Magnum. Ned Beatty in Superman and Network. Joanna Cassidy in Blade Runner Charlies Angels and The Love Boat.

5 thoughts on “FILMS… The Fourth Protocol (1987)

  1. This is another of many Caine films I haven’t seen. As I’ve watched the first 3 Harry Palmer films many times, I’m sure I would enjoy this one.

    • You’re spot on about The Ipcress File and Billion Dollar Brain. Funeral in Berlin is a nice bridge between the two. It’s a little more glamorous than Ipcress, not as crazy as Billion Dollar Brain. It’s also a great time capsule of Berlin before the fall of the wall.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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