Philip Kimberley (Michael Caine) was a British defector about the time of Guy Burgess or Kim Philby, and now he has been stuck in the Soviet Union for all these decades he is yearning to return back across the Iron Curtain to the place of his birth, in the United Kingdom. The trouble is, as he has been told, the only way that would happen would be if the authorities allowed him there as an agent for them, and if he was identified by the British he would surely be put behind bars for a very long time. However, the Soviets have thought up a solution: give him cosmetic surgery to look twenty years younger and like a completely different person, then a physical workout to tone him up, then set him loose on the West…
You should be aware the Kimberley character spent the first five minutes played, pre-surgery, by a different actor to Caine, but dubbed with the star’s voice, which was in no way offputting, heavens no. When the throat-clearing training montage begins that makes the ones in the Rocky franchise look like the blokes in Olivia Newton-John’s Physical video, you knew this was going to be bad, though quite how bad you may not have been prepared for considering the apparent calibre of the cast. This was a production beset with problems, the major one being the budget running out halfway through whereupon it was completed some time later with a bunch of half-arsed filler and exposition material that did presumed disservice to the author of the novel – who uncoincidentally was the wife of the director, Terence Young.
Not the most healthy way for any movie to be made, and with these professionals an ignominious fate for one of the spate of Cold War thrillers and dramas released in the West; while the United States would go about these with all guns blazing more often than not, the British example in apparent reaction to the James Bond series (which Young was closely involved with) took their cue from the small screen success of the John Le Carré adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring Alec Guinness in effectively his swan song (which when it was remade for the movies to some success failed to spawn many imitators of its own). Thus inspired, they would all be very low key and earnest until the violence took place.
Sometimes this succeeded very well, as in Defence of the Realm or on television Edge of Darkness for example, but quite a lot of the time you would end up with some impoverished attempt of the sort Caine showed up in, doing his bit for his country in mediocre fare like The Fourth Protocol or The Whistle Blower. Maybe Sir Michael was actually in the pay of the Soviets? Sporting a moustache as egregious as his accent, his character was based on Kim Philby you’d think, but Philby existed in the universe of the film, so what did people think when someone with a suspiciously similar name absconded from MI6? Would the authorities be on the lookout for Phim Kilby, Philberly Kimby or Killip Phimberly too?
Anyway, never mind that because not only was Caine letting himself down, but his old Sleuth co-star was too, with Sir Laurence Olivier the spymaster coming across more as if channelling the spirit of Wilfrid Brambell in a very odd performance, shouting and grimacing in a most unseemly manner. Also along to embarrass themselves were a perpetually perplexed Susan George as Caine’s estranged daughter, Robert Powell as an officer propositioned by a bald-wigged Charles Gray as his superior who described himself as looking like a great, big prick, and Michael Medwin getting yelled at. Also, the animals of Windsor Safari Park for no good reason as this stumbles confusedly towards a denouement which saw a karate-d up Kimberley murder an innocent publican in cold blood yet remained the supposed good guy. Powell took off on a motorcycle in one scene: Christ on a bike. Plinky plonky synths by John Cameron.