But this film is completely, utterly, totally ridiculous. I therefore love it.
What amazes me most, though, is that there was ever a series of spy movies made with a hero who wore horn-rimmed glasses.
I kept rooting for him to get beaten up or go to sleep just so he wouldn't wear them. Compare and contrast with me, if you will. (Photos from the Harry Palmer site.)
As you can see, Caine as Palmer can be both completely dorktacular, or completely sizzling. And it is a measure of the actor that even in the glasses he's often able to convey heavy-lidded menace. But did I mention that the film has so much plot that there's no plot, that Harry takes pretty much all of the sizzle out of being a spy, and that it goes on interminably? And did I mention the main lackey villain is Karl "American Express" Malden? This explains much.
Until we arrive at Ed Begley. I saw the name in the credits and stupidly imagined we'd see a lanky white-blond haired man who screams "wholesome," and didn't know what to make of the short, portly older fella with a Texas accent. Then I remembered that modern-day Ed is a Jr. And if this man was really his father, clearly he takes after mama. Anywho. Caine aside, what made this movie for me was Begley. His character is like an anti-Communist fascist Jesus Freak Klu Klux Klaner who wants to start a war in Latvia with his computer while the common folk on his Texas ranch do-si-do amidst bonfires and a logo that's meant to call to mind the Nazi SS German Eagle. Subtle, folks.
So Begley's General Midwinter rants and raves and shoots his pistol and talks about his oil wells in Ay-rabia and messes with Texas more ways than I can ever imagine and it's almost hard to wonder if the filmmaker (Ken Russell, by the way, which says much) is poking fun at America, or just making the guy completely loony. I'll go with both. So Begley greets Palmer and eventually says this modern classic:
"Mah arm is long and my vengeance is total. Remember that!"
I was desperately hoping Palmer would feign taking notes and say:
"Arm, long. Vegenance, total. Got it."
So that is my new favorite line from a movie. Now I have to go back and see how it ends. There's still 20 minutes of silliness to go, and Palmer has to go fetch Karl Malden's Leo for the crazy Texan. Thank God for Michael Caine.