FILMS… Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

#1960s #AllPosts


On the (snowy) Finnish streets of Helsinki, Turku, Suomenlinna and Porvoo…


I’ve found four of Michael Caine’s movies featuring Finland based scenes and not a lot of people know that.



Imagine, you are now in London, England. As the Monty Python song title says we will soon in plot time, depart by a certain Finnish national airline for snowy, “Finland, Finland, Finland”. This is in the company of Michael Caine and a Cold War movie. But this time Finland isn’t standing in for the Soviet Union, as suggested in scenes in Doctor Zhivago (1965), White Nights (1985) and Telefon (1977).

It’s predominately Finland bound for most of this film, but weirdly at one point in the film, it is set – but then filmed in Porvoo, Finland – in Latvia and in Texas. The former location was apparently the (film) home of horses and carts, revolutionaries and er… actress, Susan George as a 17 year old Russian girl who will kindly offer our protagonist a sweetie.

It’s a case of things coming in threes for this British film where this British spy goes into the cold…  as it’s firstly the third of three non-TV movies with our man Caine as Harry Palmer. The other feature films in this franchise are the far superior The Ipcress File (1965) and Funeral in Berlin (1967). (As from what I’ve heard from my Darlin Husband, the Harry Palmer TV Movies are best avoided). The film has the then co-star appearances of Susan George and Michael Caine, and it is not The Jigsaw Man (1983) or Jack the Ripper (1988) but is the Ken Russell directed the Billion Dollar Brain (1967).

So it all kicks off in the wee small hours in London, as a trilby wearing Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman) breaks into his one-time colleague at MI5, Harry Palmer’s flat. Ross rummages through Palmer’s belongings. Palmer (Michael Caine) is now an independent Private Eye with his own office. Yet there’s more incriminating evidence on Palmer of women and his penchant for a certain brand of Corn Flakes. Palmer comes home, notices this intruder and then after he holds the intruder at gunpoint, discovers it’s his old boss. Ross asks him to come back to his old job with a pay raise. Palmer refuses…

A postman joins the pair in Palmer’s flat (and he doesn’t even knock to come in, but then it is Caine’s real-life brother) and he gives Palmer an envelope. It contains a key and some money.. and Palmer is then phoned and a robotic voice of a computer (Donald Sutherland, in the first of two wee appearances) – the titular (computer) brain – tells him to go to the airport. There he has to unlock a locker, where Palmer will find more instructions.

Palmer goes to the airport, and in this locker, he finds an air ticket to Helsinki and a flask which he discovers contains some eggs. It’s off to snowy Finland we then go…  and it’s time for the groovy computer themed late 1960s themed movie credits. These are more reminiscent of a Bond movie with cool neon font, Michael Caine’s trademark spectacles and women draped around our Cockney anti-hero.

We are now landing in the Finnish capital, Helsinki with Harry Palmer (as the Tourist guide to Finland in bold begins and comes with the help of me, my Darlin Husband and the site, Reelstreets. (After passing by a Helsinki tram, kitting out with a cool furry hat in a certain Finnish apartment store and then passing (the one time Finnish President and General) Mannerheim’s statue and the Eduskunta (the Finnish Parliament House), Palmer phones his contact, Dr Kaarna (a Finnish surname) and then goes to meet him.

He toddles off in the snow to Helsinki harbour and on the frozen waters of Töölönlahti, he meets a pretty blonde, Anja (pronounced An-ya) (Francoise Dorleac). She is a “Finn”, and apparently has family in Lapland. She tells him that Klaarna couldn’t make their meeting so he sent her. The pair talk more about Finland – and snog – and he doesn’t hand over the flask, but asks to be taken to Dr Kaarna instead.

Anja, despite a Finnish name, is as French accented as this actress was, as Dorleac sadly passed away in tragic circumstances, shortly after filming. She takes Palmer to her island (aka the Finnish government owned Suomenlinna) by an icebreaker boat. She is shacked up on Suomenlinna island with the married Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden). Leo is having a sauna and luckily Caine’s hat covers Newbigen’s member (and even more after Anja strips off) where he’s bashing himself with a vihta (a wee branch from a birch tree, and this is essential as nudity when taking a Finnish sauna). He seems to be quite initiated into the Finnish way of taking a sauna but sadly the young Michael Caine keeps his clothes on.

Newbigen claims to be Klaarna, and then he pays Palmer for the eggs. These eggs apparently contain a lethal virus and Newbigen asks Palmer to work with him. Back in Helsinki, after checking out Klaarna’s address in the phone book, and visiting his home Palmer finds the real Klaarna is dead. Palmer tries to leg it back to London, but he is chloroformed and then finds himself with Ross who is still keen to employ him… or Ross will hand him over to the Finnish police.

After meeting an old Soviet friend, Col Stok (Oskar Homolka, and those legendary eyebrows) in more crazy coincidences, the bizarre plot continues as Palmer finds he has joined forces with Newbigen once again. Their missions are given by telex and the computer…

Then Palmer discovers a conspiracy, with a plot against communism as devised by a megalomaniac Texan, General Midwinter (Ed Begley Snr). This stetson wearing Texan oil baron –  and his stetson wearing henchmen – is being assisted by a (billion dollar) brain (a Honeywell 2000 computer) in the hope of a third world war… (and is sadly not a Larry Hagman as JR Ewing cameo, as my Darlin Husband convinced me before watching this movie)

This film has surprisingly many website entries detailing those Finnish landmarks, you will find in Helsinki, Suomenlinna, Porvoo and Turku. These have some stills with photos of Finnish landmarks from the film and often compare these to the current day.

Culturally this film is also a goldmine with scenes featuring or mentioning the Three Smiths Statue, the Finnish flag, the composer Sibelius, iconic Ball Chairs designed by the Finn, Eero Aarnio and the Ad Astra painting from Akseli Gallen Kallela. The Finland-found architecture includes the Helsinki Cathedral, the garrison at Suomenlinna and a few rather stylish museums, Turku Castle and an ice hockey hall and game.

There are also Helsinki trams, Finnish airlines and VR ie Finnish trains which in a plot-relevant sign suggest that Palmer’s destination at the border is Imatra (located near the Russian border). However, the actual border scenes were filmed nearer Helsinki. This is not the only geographical error as Turku Castle was also spotted in the movie, and this is situated in Turku which was the original capital of Finland long ago… and this town is quite far from Helsinki.

There are also a few references to Finnish favourite pastimes such as ice hockey (jääkiekko (as pronounced badly in the movie) and saunas (pronounced s-ow (as in ouch)-na). Caine doesn’t indulge in traditional Finnish food such as piirakkaa (pies), maksalaatikko (liver casserole) or mämmi (sweetened rye pudding). Although a certain brand of Finnish beer was spotted in those advertisements in the ice hockey related scene.

Michael Caine’s presence in Finland for this film still causes more excitement in the Finnish press than Charles Bronson (who filmed the “Soviet Union” scenes from Telefon here). Iltalehti HERE, proclaimed that “Brittitähti Michael Caine kuvasi elokuvan Suomessa: Katso nostalgiset kuvat 60-luvulta” (British star Michael Caine shot the film in Finland: See the nostalgic pictures from the 60s). This article also adds that Finnish singer, Pirkko Mannola and actor and one-time football star, Åke Lindman (who starred with Bronson) also appeared in this movie.

Other relevant articles from Finnish sites include… Yle’s “Tehtävä Suomessa, Michael Caine!” (Mission in Finland, Michael Caine.. as read HERE) and with the help of the translate button adds,

“This image of Finland from the late 1960s gives the film its charming period patina as the camera effortlessly, even charmingly, reaches Helsinki in particular.”

In the article, Näyttelijä Michael Caine Suomen muistot surkeita (Actor Michael Caine’s terrible memories of Finland) HERE mentions that Caine remembered Finland in his memoirs, and the article adds…

“He recalls being involved in a mass fight in the hotel bar and being on the icy ground in several dangerous situations.

While Caine was sitting with an Italian journalist in the lobby bar of the Hotel Inter-Continental doing an interview in French, a drunken sailor came to challenge the argument.

According to Caine, the result was a high-class fistfight in which “everyone” got involved.”

However, if you want to see more of Finland as seen in Michael Caine’s movies this film also has the claim to fame as one of four of his films with Finnish set scenes, which I have discovered so far (please do tell me if there are more). The other films are The Fourth Protocol (1987), The Jigsaw Man and The Eagle Has Landed (1976).

Finally, in this batshit crazy plot, you will be as confused as you were in that Susan George and Michael Caine spy film, The Jigsaw Man. In The Jigsaw Man, Susan George plays Caine’s estranged daughter and they reunite after Caine’s Soviet character – who at first only sounds like this Cockney actor – has had plastic surgery to… er also look like Michael Caine.

The Billion Dollar Brain plot appears to have not just confused me but also my Darlin Husband, the film cast and it appears some of the (more prolific) characters. To quote one of Caine’s later co-stars who was mentioned much earlier in the post as the voice behind the brain. Now he is seen and heard as a computer technician, as none other than Donald Sutherland shares a scene with Karl Malden, albeit in the Texas-based plot.

“What’s going on…?”

….with answers on a postcard, to Realweegiemidget Reviews, Somewhere in Finland…


The Seen On The Screen Blogathon 2023, No 9.

This film review was added to Taking Up Room‘s The Seen On The Screen Blogathon. Reviews with this cast include Guy Doleman in The Six Million Dollar Man, The Colbys, The Avengers, Murder She Wrote and The Ipcress File. Karl Malden in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, Meteor, The Streets of San Francisco and Gypsy. Michael Caine in Educating Rita, Surrender, The Swarm, Bullseye, X, Y and Zee and The Fourth Protocol.  Oskar Homolka in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Tamarind Seed. Susan George in The Sorcerers, Jack the Ripper, Hotel and EastEnders.



22 thoughts on “FILMS… Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of Finnish landmarks to enjoy in one film, although it sounds like there’s a lot of incomprehensible plot to wade through to get to the good scenic spots. Maybe the latest Billion Dollar Brain, ChatGPT, can help make sense of it? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never heard of the billion dollar brain or Harry palmer!
    From your description, it sounds worth looking for, even if I won’t know what’s going on. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems even Caine thought it was a bit confusing. Wikipedia says
      ..he said, “Ken Russell lost the story somewhere and no one could care a damn about what was going on because they couldn’t follow what was going on”..


  3. Gill, I just took a short virtual tour of Helsinki, and it looks like a very beautiful city. It looks like photos of the city taken from across the water are very popular, and rightly so!

    Not sure if I would drop everything to see this film, but you did kind of sell me on Oscar Homolka and his “legendary eyebrows”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From the first time I ever saw this film I always hoped to visit Helsinki, I never made it, although your post is the next best thing. I do like all the Harry Palmer films, Funeral in Berlin is actually my favourite of the first three, it’s a great time capsule of divided Berlin, I even enjoyed Len Deighton’s book of that one.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds cool even if it is confusing–I never knew Michael Caine was so big on Finland. I’m also kinda curious about the food, to be honest. Thanks again for joining the blogathon–this was a great read! 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

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