Saturday, 14 January 2012

Midnight in St Petersburg

I enjoyed the role of Michael Caine in the role of Harry Palmer, a character created be Len Deighton in three of his early books, The Ipcress File released in 1965, Funeral in Berlin 1966 and the Million Dollar Brian 1967. Some three decades later the aged Caine reappeared in the same role with new screenplays, Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St Petersburg.

I have now seen the final film and what a great disappointment although it provided the opportunity to view some good shots of the modern city. Caine is now operating as an independent investigations agency with a small Moscow based team which includes an ex CIA and an ex KGB specialist as well as a young assistant played by the son of Sean Connery, Jason, who appeared with Caine in the earlier film and for a time was married to the actress who also played a lead role in the film.

In the film Caine is hired by the International Atomic Authority to prevent a stolen quantity of Russian Nuclear material being sold to one of the countries seeking to develop nuclear weaponry. The deal is reported to take place in St Petersburg before the end of the week so Caine moves to the City where’re he has no previous experience although leading criminals with whom he has crossed swords in the past are also prominent.

A contrived complication arises when his assistant realises that his prima ballerina girl friend is being shadowed on her way home to St Petersburg from Moscow where she had been appearing. Her father is the curator of the Hermitage and what with Caine and the young man asked to attend the circus to receive their new assignment we have the Bolshoi Ballet, the State Circus and the greatest museum in the World all introduced into the film early on.

The girl is being trailed prior to being kidnapped so that instead of a number of valuable paintings arriving at their destination for an arranged exhibition they are to be taken out of the country. The paintings are being stolen for a fee of $5 million by a man who specialises is picture recovery. He will then negotiate a finder’s fee significantly greater than the $5 million investment so no one losses other than the Insurance company. The $5 million is then being used to pay for the nuclear material which is then to be sold to one of the many interested governments, again for a significantly greater amount. This is the first individual signalled a big clue, as is the young US reporter who first wants to interview the ballerina and then Michael Caine although the idea that one correspondent would be employed to cover both types of stories is preposterous as is much of the rest of the film.

I do accept the central proposition however linking the art theft/fraud with the financing of the nuclear material sale as it is well documented that the US Government for example used the drugs trade to finance political and military operations although in the instance of the film there is a lack of credibility throughout because the main protagonists have been transported from Moscow to St Petersburg in order to show off the Russian second City and the Hermitage which is my understanding is the only tourist reason for visiting. Certainly according to the film the best restaurant in the city serves bad food, is frequented by the Russian criminal class and is shot up by criminal rivals to the owners. The idea that the place would immediately reopen and be frequented by the same customers including the police chief is absurd.

The rest of the plot involves the father going along with the kidnap demands without seeking help from the authorities so the young man trails the father and immediately assumes the young reporter is an ally who keeps turning up and also keeping company with the art dealer. The young man appears to have little judgement or skill to equip him for the private intelligence business and Caine looks and behave his age and would not have survived five minutes in reality. However they manage to recover the nuclear material and recover the paintings to enable their loan the gallery in question with some of the baddies apprehended. The art dealer is required to forfeit the $5 million bankers draft for restoration of the Hermitage but otherwise is left free to continue his global criminal activity joining the celebration party which ends the film. It is OK nothing better to do late night viewing to complete watching the five Harry Palmer Caine interpretations of the characters which may well have pleased some of the teenage weekend audience at the time, but given the else was being offered I doubt it. There is a lack of tension, thrills, credibility and sincerety

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