I'm off to Norway for the weekend to help local writer-artists craft their stories for a graphic novel to be published later this year, so feel free to talk amongst yourselves until I get back. If I'm not blogging again by Monday, wait longer. In the meantime, here's a bumper crop from the Films of Michael Caine thread. It's the early-to-mid 1990s and the actor is going through a trough in his career...
NOISES OFF (1992)
Cast: Carol Burnett (Dotty Otley and Mrs Clackett), Michael Caine (Lloyd Fellowes), Denholm Elliott (Selsdon Mowbray and The Burglar), Julie Hagerty (Poppy Taylor), Marilu Henner (Belinda Blair and Flavia Brent), Mark Linn-Baker (Timm Allgood), Christopher Reeve (Frederick Dallas and Philip Brent), John Ritter (Garry Lejeune and Roger Tramplemain), Nicollette Sheridan (Brooke Ashton and Vicki).
Crew: Peter Bogdanovich (director), Frank Marshall (producer), Marty Kaplan (writer), Tim Suhrstedt (cinematography), Lisa Day (editor), Norman Newberry (production designer).
Synopsis: British sex farce Nothing On is having its opening night on Broadway in New York. Director Lloyd Fellowes flees the theatre, convinced the show will be a disaster. He remembers all the problems that plagued the show during six months on tour – from the dress rehearsal in Iowa, to a disastrous matinee in Miami and the final horror of a crazed performance in Cleveland. The cast is filled with temperamental actors who hate themselves, each other and have endless romantic intrigues. To Lloyd’s amazement, the show is a hit…
Michael Frayn’s stage farce Noises Off had been a smash hit, running for five years in London’s West End and almost as long on Broadway. The film rights were acquired by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, but the stage-bound story defied an easy conversion to celluloid. Director Peter Bogdanovich was been double Oscar-nominated for his work on The Last Picture Show (1971), but had grown up in the theatre. He persuaded producer Frank Marshall to let him make a movie version of Noises Off. ‘Nobody could figure out how to do it as a movie,’ Marshall said in an interview with the Sunday Times in 1992, ‘but Peter thought he knew how.’
‘With a play everybody usually starts to discuss how to change things, but I wanted to do the opposite,’ Bogdanovich told the Sunday Times, ‘to preserve as much as possible, especially everything that had worked in the theatre.’ He discovered extra sequences had been added to Frayn’s original script over the years. Bogdanovich hired the London show’s assistant director to help select the best version of the play.
The film’s director and producer hand-picked the main cast, with Caine chosen as long-suffering stage director Lloyd Fellowes. ‘Michael Caine was very much who we wanted for that part,’ Bogdanovich said. ‘I’ve always wanted to work with Michael, and now that I have, I want to work with him again! He told me he didn’t think he’d ever had so much dialogue in a picture in his life.’ Normally a film equates to one minute of screen time for each page of script. The director wanted Noises Off to maintain its pace and shot 225 pages of script at a rate of only 25 seconds per page.
Bogdanovich rehearsed the cast for five weeks before shooting began, a rare luxury for any film. The picture was made predominantly on sets at Universal Studios in Los Angeles during 1991. The production reunited Caine with two old friends – Christopher Reeve, his co-star from Deathtrap (1982), and British actor Denholm Elliott. Caine and Elliott had shared memorable scenes in Alfie (1966) and both starred in the gritty war drama Too Late the Hero (1970).
Noises Off was released in America as a PG-13 in March 1992. Despite strong reviews, the movie took less than $2.5 million at the box office, opening against the smash hit erotic thriller Basic Instinct (1992). It reached British cinemas three months later, with a 12 rating, but grossed just over $150,000. The movie was rush-released on video in November 1992 and deleted six months later. Noises Off was released on DVD in 2004.
In his autobiography Caine describes the film as an honourable failure: ‘The play was brilliant and we kept very close to it, and the actors could not have been better … all the ingredients for a wonderful film. The people who saw it loved it, but we could not get the general public into the cinemas.’
Reviews: ‘Noises Off is not so much a bad film as one which should probably never have been made at all … it simply doesn’t feel like cinema.’ – The Guardian
‘If ever a play was designed not to be filmed, that play is Noises Off … it positively reeks of greasepaint.’ – Sunday Express
Verdict: This version of Noises Off is often hysterically funny, but only despite the best efforts of the filmmakers, rather than because of them. Frayn’s source material is so strong the farce shines through all attempts by Bogdanovich to put his own stamp on it. The film’s pointless framing sequence and feeble happy ending dull the play’s lustre and hold back the laughs for too long. At least the director has the good sense not to tamper with ninety per cent of the original and that’s enough to keep the laughs coming thick and fast. Caine shows his usual gift for comedy. Frankly, Bogdanovich would have been better off just filming a performance of the play.
BLUE ICE (1992)
Cast: Michael Caine (Harry Anders), Sean Young (Stacy Mansdorf), Ian Holm (Sir Hector), Bobby Short (Buddy), Alun Armstrong (Osgood), Sam Kelly (George), Jack Shepherd (Stevens), Philip Davis (Westy), Bob Hoskins (Sam Garcia).
Crew: Russell Mulcahy (director), Martin Bregman and Michael Caine (producers), Ron Hutchinson (writer), Michael Kamen (music), Denis Crossan (cinematography), Seth Flaum (editor), Grant Hicks (production designer).
Synopsis: Harry Anders is a former spy who runs a jazz club. He meets an American woman, Stacy Mansdorf. They become friends and then lovers. Harry discovers Stacy is married to the American ambassador. She asks Anders to find her ex-lover, Kyle. Harry enlists the aid of Osgood, a detective at New Scotland Yard. They trace Kyle to a seedy hotel near London Bridge. But Kyle gets murdered and the killer also slays Osgood. Next morning Kyle’s body is removed from the morgue by American soldiers. Anders is approached by his former boss, Sir Hector, who warns him to be careful. Stacy reveals Kyle worked for US military intelligence, tracing illegal weapons shipments from the docks of London. Harry arrives as the latest shipment is being loaded. Sir Hector is the mastermind. Harry kills his old boss in a shootout. Stacy returns to America with her husband…
In 1992 Michael Caine and American film producer Martin Bregman formed M & M Productions, a company dedicated to making mainstream movies in Britain. Financing help for the venture came from US cable channel HBO. ‘The idea was to start a new commercial cinema, make smaller British action movies,’ Caine told Empire magazine. ‘HBO knew that Marty was a friend of mine, and they said to him, “You what we’d like to see? Michael Caine with a gun in his hand again, and a woman in the other arm.” That was the whole premise. So we bought these really hard, seedy, gritty detective books and made an incredible tough film, all action. This is a bit of a Dirty Harry Palmer.’
The character of Harry Anders had been created by a former British spy, Ted Allbeury. In 1992 Bregman told Time Out he hoped to make a series of Harry Anders movies. ‘I wanted to develop something where I could use Michael’s abilities. He’s a touch weathered, which most women find extremely attractive. You never see a romantic man on screen who’s over 40.’ Bregman had strong credentials as a producer, including several of Al Pacino’s best films – Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Scarface (1983) and Sea of Love (1989). He also produced Sweet Liberty (1986), starring Caine and Bob Hoskins.
The director on Blue Ice was Russell Mulcahy, best known for helming the action-packed Highlander films. Caine wooed Sharon Stone for the part of Stacy, but the sudden success of Basic Instinct (1992) meant she became unavailable. Instead the role went to Sean Young, an actress much mentioned in Hollywood rumours. ‘Everybody cringed with horror,’ Caine told Empire, ‘and said “She’ll be sending things through the post and leaving dead rats on your doorstep.” But I don’t believe everything I read in the press ... she wasn’t an ounce of trouble, she charmed everyone on set, down to the last technician.’
The $7 million film was shot on location around London and at Ealing Studios. Joining the cast for a cameo was Bob Hoskins, returning the favour Caine did for Mona Lisa (1986). Other familiar faces included Alun Armstrong, who made his film debut with Caine in Get Carter (1971), and US jazz pianist Bobby Short, who had a cameo in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).
Caine told the Sunday Times there was a market for nice little thrillers. ‘There’s no money for huge crowd scenes or incredible jumbo jets crashing through hotels or something. So what we lack in money, we have had to make up in style, wit and invention.’ HBO retained the right to veto a cinema release, but Caine hoped that wouldn’t happen. ‘We’re not making a television movie, we’re making a cinema movie with television money. When we’re finished, they will look at it and decide whether it is worth releasing as a picture that can hold up at the box office against the big ones.’
Blue Ice was released in the UK during October 1992 with a 15 rating. The picture grossed just over $350,000 and received mediocre reviews. HBO decided against a cinema release in the US, premiering the movie on cable instead. The film was released on video in both territories during 1993, receiving an R rating in America. The US tape is still available but has been deleted in Britain. A Region 1 DVD version was issued in 2005, but the film remains unavailable in Region 2 format.
Reviews: ‘Michael Caine re-dons spycatcher duds in Blue Ice, a determinedly old-fashioned actioner that’s terminally light on real thrills.’ - Variety
‘It is a testament to Michael Caine’s screen presence and sheer professionalism that … he almost single-handedly carries this routine British thriller.’ – Time Out
Verdict: Casting Caine as a retired British spy was always going to invite comparison with The Ipcress File – a comparison Blue Ice will never win. Aside from a hallucination sequence in the middle of the movie, Mulcahy abandons his usual flashy directing for something duller and drearier. It’s a bad sign when a British movie shows Londoners explaining Cockney rhyming slang - to each other. Caine tries his best, but the dialogue lurches from cliché to cringe-inducing. Put simply, Blue Ice is a poor film with few distinguishing features.
MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE (1992)
Cast: Michael Caine (Ebenezer Scrooge), Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo, Robert Marley, Bunsen Honeydew and Betina Cratchit), Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Beaker and Belinda Cratchit), Jerry Nelson (Tiny Tim Cratchit, Jacob Marley and Ma Bear), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle and Animal), Steven Mackintosh (Fred), Meredith Braun (Belle), Robin Weaver (Clara).
Crew: Brian Henson (director), Brian Henson and Martin G Baker (producers), Jerry Juhl (writer), Miles Goodman (music), John Fenner (cinematography), Michael Jablow (editor), Val Strazovec (production designer).
Synopsis: Ebenezer Scrooge is a tight-fisted moneylender. On Christmas Eve he is visited by the spectres of his dead partners, Jacob and Robert Marley. They are trapped in purgatory, bound by the chains of greed and avarice they embraced in life. The Marley brothers tell their former partner that three spirits will haunt him during the night. Scrooge is indeed visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. The old man realises he abandoned love for his pursuit of money. He is unwanted and unloved, with nobody to mourn his passing. Scrooge becomes a new man, vowing to be generous and honour the spirit of Christmas…
The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first major project undertaken following the death of the Muppets’ creator, Jim Henson. His son Brian stepped forward to direct the picture, his first feature film. Screenwriter Jerry Juhl adapted the story by Charles Dickens, turning the author into an on-screen narrator and commentator. In an interview on the DVD release, Henson confesses to early trepidation about the project: ‘I didn’t know how we could do a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol that would stand out from all the others. It was Jerry Juhl’s idea to cast Gonzo as Charles Dickens and have him telling the story. That’s when we knew we had a film.’
The filmmakers decided Scrooge had to be played by a human actor and offered the part to Caine. The part required him to sing two of the songs written by Paul Williams for the picture – a first for the actor. The production was filmed entirely at Shepperton Studios. The movie reunited Caine with Frank Oz, his director on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988).
‘People think I’ll be a silly old Scrooge,’ Caine told Empire magazine in 1992, ‘because it’s a silly old Muppets film. You have to play Scrooge absolutely seriously, otherwise it’s not funny. So what you’ve got is my performance as Scrooge, had I been at The National Theatre. It’s a very stretching, difficult role funnily enough, because you have to sing and you have to act with puppets.’
In publicity material for the film, Caine described what inspired his performance: ‘My basic role models for Scrooge were not Victorian, they were very modern and came from watching CNN and seeing the trials and tribulations of all the Wall Street cheats and embezzlers. I thought they represented a very good picture of meanness and greed! My Scrooge looks particularly irredeemable and is more psychotic than most.’
The Muppet Christmas Carol was released during December 1992, rated G in America and U in Britain. Critics gave it mediocre notices but the picture still grossed $27 million in the US and more than $4 million from Britain. A video release followed in 1993 and the movie made its DVD debut in 2002.
Reviews: ‘Caine resists the temptation to ham up his lead role, and the Muppets are far more spontaneous than some of his recent real life co-stars.’ – City Limits
‘Not as enchanting or amusing as the previous entries in the Muppet series … Michael Caine is perfectly cast as the nasty Scrooge, though his role is too dominant.’ – Variety
Verdict: The Muppet Christmas Carol strikes an uneasy balance as it blends the Dickens’ story with musical numbers, pithy asides and clowning puppets. The result is a halfway house that chops and changes its mood too often. The saccharine songs quickly wear out their welcome, but the running commentary on events by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat provides welcome comic relief for adult viewers too familiar with the film’s source material. Caine wisely plays it straight as Scrooge, leaving the humour to the felt-faced creations around him. The less said about his singing, the better. The Muppet Christmas Carol has its moments, but will try the patience of any adult who sees it more than once.
ON DEADLY GROUND (1994)
Cast: Steven Seagal (Forrest Taft), Michael Caine (Michael Jennings), Joan Chen (Masu), John C McGinley (MacGruder), R Lee Ermey (Stone), Shari Shattuck (Liles), Billy Bob Thornton (Homer Carlton), Richard Hamilton (Hugh Palmer), Chief Irvin Brink (Silook), Apanguluk Charlie Kairaiuak (Tunrak).
Crew: Steven Seagal (director), Steven Seagal, Julius R Nasso and A Kitman Ho (producers), Ed Horowitz and Robin U Russin (writers), Basil Poledouris (music), Ric Waite (cinematography), Robert A Ferretti and Don Brochu (editors), William Ladd Skinner (production designer).
Synopsis: A rig owned by Aegis Oil catches fire in Valdez, Alaska. Ruthless company boss Michael Jennings brings in trouble-shooter Forrest Taft to stop the blaze. Rig foreman Hugh Palmer blames Jennings for the disaster, claiming his boss forced him to use faulty safety equipment. Forrest discovers the allegation is true. Jennings has to get the world’s biggest oil rig, Aegis-1, online soon or else oil rights worth billions of dollars a week will revert to the native Eskimos. The company is deliberately using faulty equipment because waiting for replacements would mean missing the deadline. Jennings has Palmer murdered and tries to kill Forrest too. But Taft survives the blast and is nursed back to health by the Eskimos. Forrest takes vengeance on the oil company, sabotaging Aegis-1 just before it goes online and drowning Jennings in oil. The Eskimos reclaim their land…
Martial arts expert Steven Seagal was just a minor action movie hero until Under Siege stormed the US box office in 1992. Its success gave him the clout to make On Deadly Ground, an action movie with a pro-environment message. Seagal was the star of the film, one of three producers and made his directing debut. Shooting began in 1993 with five weeks on location in Alaska. The cast and crew endured blizzards and wild extremes of temperature. ‘This is a picture I care deeply about,’ Seagal said in the movie’s publicity material. ‘If it wasn’t something special, I wouldn’t gone to the great effort and risk.’
He hired Caine to star as evil oil company boss Michael Jennings, continuing a Hollywood trend of hiring British actors to play villains for action features. Caine praised his boss in the studio-approved publicity material: ‘A first-time director brings a whole new load of fresh ideas. Steven has a very strong vision of what this movie is and should be. He earned my trust. I wouldn’t have come and just done a crash, bang martial arts film. There’s more to On Deadly Ground than that. Although we have an exciting piece of entertainment, the film does carry an important message as well.’ The actor explained his reasons for taking the role: ‘In a film called Mona Lisa (1986) I played a really dark character with no nice side at all, and I had a great time. I thought it would be fun to do it again.’
Behind the scenes Caine was less than impressed. During a public interview at the NFT in 1998, the actor said his experiences while making On Deadly Ground helped drive him into semi-retirement: ‘I … sort of stopped worked because the joy had gone out of doing it. I finally wound up in Alaska with Steven Seagal, which took quite a lot of joy out of it. I remember ringing down to the desk in my hotel and saying, “Could you send someone up for the laundry?” And they said, “The laundrette’s next door.” And I was freezing my butt off, and I thought, I don’t need this, so I stopped.’
After Alaska the production moved to the state of Washington for more location filming before concluding shooting at Los Angeles with further location work and interiors on a soundstage. There was a dispute between Seagal and Warner Brothers studio over the final cut of On Deadly Ground. The picture concludes with the star delivering an environmental lecture that attacks big business and alleges political collusion in pollution. Rumours at the time suggested Seagal’s original cut of the film had a 10-15 minute lecture, but the studio insisted this edited down to four minutes for the final cut.
On Deadly Ground was released in America with an R rating in February 1994. Lambasted by critics, it grossed nearly $40 million – less than half what Under Siege had taken. Seagal won the Razzie award as worst director for this feature and has not directed a film since. On Deadly Ground reached British cinemas a month later, with the BBFC requiring seventy seconds of cuts before granting a 15 rating. It grossed more than $2 million. On Deadly Ground was released on video several months later and remains available. A DVD version was issued in the US.
Reviews: ‘This is a vanity production parading as a social statement.’ – Variety
‘An embarrassed Michael Caine looks to be having second thoughts from his first frame to his last, when he begs, "Go ahead, shoot me!" The film probably feels the same way.’ – The Washington Post
Verdict: On Deadly Ground has a car crash quality, being so compulsively awful it is difficult to tear your eyes away. Seagal acts with the panache of a rice pudding. His pro-environment sentiments are laudable, but the delivery is laughable. After an orgy of violence, the lecture at the finale carries no weight or credibility. Caine’s performance is among the worst of his career, with an accent that veers from Cockney to California and back again. Just as variable is his hair colour, appearing jet black in some scenes and dark brown in others, as if Caine was combing his locks with Marmite. Comparisons to his performance in Mona Lisa are risible, to say the least. Whatever the size of his fee for this farrago, it was not enough to match the indignity On Deadly Ground heaped upon his career.
BULLET TO BEIJING (1996)
(alternate title: Len Deighton’s Bullet to Beijing)
Cast: Michael Caine (Harry Palmer), Jason Connery (Nick), Mia Sara (Natasha), Michael Gambon (Alex), Michael Sarrazin (Craig), Lev Prygunov (Colonel Gradsky), Anatoly Davidov (Yuri Stephanovich), Sue Lloyd (Jean), Burt Kwouk (Kim Soo).
Crew: George Mihalka (director), Alexander Goloutva, John Dunning and André Link (producers), Peter Welbeck (writer), Rick Wakeman (music), Peter Benison and Terence Cole (cinematography), François Gill (editor), Yuri Pashigorie (production designer).
Synopsis: British secret agent Harry Palmer witnesses a Russian scientist being assassinated at a demonstration outside the North Korean embassy in London. Before he can investigate the case, Palmer is given accelerated retirement – effective immediately. Harry is offered $5000 to fly to St Petersburg. As soon as he arrives, people try to kill him. The former spy is taken to meet Alex, a wealthy Russian who employs him to find a missing biological weapon called Red Death. After surviving another attempt on his life, Harry boards a train to Beijing. He discovers half a dozen people on board, all working for Alex. They are supposed to deliver Red Death to the North Korean embassy in Beijing, in exchange for heroin. But the samples are fakes. When everyone returns to St Petersburg there is a shootout at the train station. Despite much treachery and double-crossing, Harry survives and the heroin is destroyed. Palmer makes a mortal enemy of Alex but decides to stay in Russia, going into business for himself …
In 1992 Caine told Empire he steadfastly refused to make another Harry Palmer film. Two years later he found himself in Russia making not one but two Harry Palmer movies, shot back to back between August and November 1994. [See Midnight in St Petersburg for more information about the other half of this pair.] Caine’s presence was an essential to secure the use of author Len Deighton’s insubordinate spy. ‘I told the producers to come back when Michael had agreed,’ Deighton told the Sunday Times in 1995, ‘thinking he never would.’
Caine told the Mail on Sunday that returning to the role was amazing. ‘After all this time, the moment I put on those heavy glasses, the character of Harry Palmer came back to me whole – the voice, the walk, the lot. I felt it was only yesterday that I had hung up Harry’s props.’ The actor spent time with KGB officers, learning about the reality of espionage. ‘They showed me their headquarters. I said it was a bloody ugly building but not particularly sinister. They said “Yeah, but there are eight storeys underground...”’
Post-production on Bullet to Beijing was completed in 1995. An article in the Sunday Times suggested the film might reach British cinemas that autumn. Instead the movie received a limited release in Canada during 1996 and was nominated for an award by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers.
In January 1997 the Sunday Times reported the film had been killed off by bosses at Disney, at a cost of £10 million. The success of James Bond’s comeback in Goldeneye (1995) was cited as a factor for cancelling a cinema release for Bullet to Beijing. Instead the movie made its US debut on a cable network called The Movie Channel, premiering on April 5 1997, with a video release later that month. Both were rated R by the MPAA. The film went straight to video in Britain during 1997, rated 15, and has seen been deleted. A DVD was released in Canada, incorporating 20 minutes of extra footage.
Bullet to Beijing gives a prominent acting credit to Sue Lloyd as Jean, reprising her role as the female agent from The Ipcress File (1965). ‘We brought her back for five minutes in the new one for old times’ sake,’ Caine told the Sunday Times in 1995. But the character did not appear on screen in the UK video release. Sue Lloyd’s cameo can be found on the extended Canadian DVD version. Harry and Jean meet for dinner. Jean left the secret service to get married years earlier, but her rich husband recently died. Palmer asks if she will marry him, but Jean refuses. They begin making love.
In 1998 Caine talked about Bullet to Beijing during his public interview at the NFT. ‘It was one of those things when it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was interesting to do, but kind of boring at the same time. I’ll tell you what it was like. It was like a holiday romance. It wasn’t so good once you got back home. She didn’t look as hot as she did on the beach, when you’d had eight sangrias!’
Reviews: ‘Caine returns to the role of Harry Palmer … but the reunion is not a happy one; the problem is the dull script that defeats everyone.’ – Halliwell’s
Verdict: Caine’s film career has been through many peaks and troughs - the first half of the 1990s was most definitely a trough. This is the better of two Harry Palmer films shot in 1994, but that is damning it with the faintest of praise. The clumsy script is packed with pointless action sequences and nods to The Ipcress File (1965). These only reinforce how badly this film compares with it predecessor. Harry spends the first 30 minutes asking stupid questions to elicit exposition from the other characters. After that, things go downhill. Mihalka’s flaccid direction has the hallmarks of a journeyman, while the cast look ready to shoot their agents. Caine tries his best but has precious little with which to work. It’s no surprise this film went straight to video in most countries.
MIDNIGHT IN ST PETERSBURG (1997)
(alternate title: Len Deighton’s Midnight in Saint Petersburg)
Cast: Michael Caine (Harry Palmer), Jason Connery (Nick), Michelle Rene Thomas (Brandy), Michael Gambon (Alex), Michael Sarrazin (Craig), Tanya Jackson (Tatiana), Serge Houde (Dr Vestry), Anatoly Davidov (Yuri), Vlasta Vrana (Hans Schreiber), John Dunn-Hill (Louis), Lev Prygunov (Colonel Gradsky).
Crew: Doug Jackson (director), Edward Simons, Kent Walwin, Alexander Goloutva, John Dunning and André Link (producers), Peter Welbeck (writer), Rick Wakeman (music), Peter Benison (cinematography), Vidal Beique (editor), Chris Tulloch (production designer).
Synopsis: Former British secret agent Harry Palmer runs a private investigation agency in Moscow, aided by Nick and several more former employees of Alex, a deadly crime boss in St Petersburg. Nick is dating a ballerina, Tatiana, whose father Feodor is a curator at the Hermitage art gallery in St Petersburg. Harry is hired to recover a kilogram of enriched plutonium, enough to make three atomic bombs. Alex tries to kill Palmer with a letter bomb. Harry and Nick travel to St Petersburg, seeking the missing plutonium. Tatiana is abducted. Alex threatens to kill her unless Feodor helps him. Harry asks for help from Yuri, a St Petersburg gangster and rival of Alex.
Nick becomes suspicious when Feodor does not report Tatiana’s abduction to the police. He follows Feodor to an old film studio, but is captured by thugs and imprisoned with Tatiana. Palmer discovers the plutonium is being traded in a deal at the film studio. Harry gets into the studio, with help from Yuri. Alex abducted Tatiana to make Feodor bring $5 million worth of paintings from the Hermitage. An American art dealer was buying the paintings and Alex was using the money to buy the plutonium. But Nick escapes and helps Palmer stop the deal. The paintings are returned to the Hermitage and the plutonium is safely recovered…
In 1994 Caine went to Russia for filming of a new Harry Palmer movie, Bullet to Beijing (1996). That picture finished shooting in October and director George Mihalka departed, but Caine agreed to stay on for an extra month to make another Harry Palmer movie. Midnight in St Petersburg was never intended for cinemas, instead being made to premiere on the Showtime cable network in America.
‘I said okay, since the entire company, same people, same places were utilised,’ Caine told Variety. ‘But my main interest is in the feature.’ There was talk of further Harry Palmer made-for-TV movies if Midnight in St Petersburg proved successful, but Caine was not interested in such projects. Midnight in St Petersburg made its American debut on a cable TV soon in 1997, rated R by the MPAA. In Britain the TV movie went straight to video in April 1997, rated 15, but has since been deleted. The film is available on DVD – in Spain.
Reviews: ‘Slack and uninteresting thriller, a sequel of sorts to Bullet to Beijing, and even worse than that flat film.’ – Halliwell’s
Verdict: Most of the criticisms of Bullet to Beijing apply twice as strongly to this execrable effort, bankrupt in imagination and effort. Caine looks like a man haunted by how low his career prospects have sunk. This direct to video dog is arguably the nadir of his film career in the 1990s, although On Deadly Ground (1994) and Shadow Run (1998) also lay claim to that dishonour. They have the advantage of being so bad that some ironic pleasure can be derived from seeing them. Midnight in St Petersburg is just wooden, lifeless and dull.
BLOOD AND WINE (1997)
Cast: Jack Nicholson (Alex Gates), Stephen Dorff (Jason), Jennifer Lopez (Gabriela), Judy Davis (Suzanne), Michael Caine (Victor Spansky), Harold Perrineau Jr (Henry), Robyn Peterson (Dina Reese), Mike Starr (Mike), John Seitz (Frank Reese).
Crew: Bob Rafelson (director), Jeremy Thomas (producer), Nick Villiers and Alison Cross (writers), Michal Lorenc (music), Newton Thomas Sigel (cinematography), Steven Cohen (editor), Richard Sylbert (production designer).
Synopsis: Miami wine dealer Alex Gates plans to steal a diamond necklace worth $1 million from a wealthy family. He is having an affair with their illegal immigrant nanny, Gabriela. Alex’s relationship with his wife Suzanne and adult step-son Jason is falling apart. Aided by English safecracker Victor, Alex steals the necklace. Jason gets romantically involved with Gabriela. Alex hides the necklace in a suitcase. Before he can leave, Alex gets into a fight with Suzanne. She beats him with a cane, knocking Alex out.
Suzanne flees, taking Jason and the suitcase. Jason finds the necklace and uses a stone from it to buy a fishing boat. Alex and Victor pursue Suzanne and Jason. Suzanne dies in a car crash. Alex murders his partner in crime. Jason has a final meeting with Alex and Gabriela on the boat. Jason gives the necklace to Gabriela, who leaves. Alex beats his step-son, but Jason uses the boat to crush Alex’s legs. Gabriela returns and gives the necklace to Alex, keeping one diamond for herself. Jason leaves in the boat while Gabriela drives away. Approaching sirens are closing in …
Blood and Wine started as a story written by director Bob Rafelson and Nick Villiers. Rafelson had worked with Jack Nicholson on several previous movies, most notably the Oscar-nominated Five Easy Pieces (1970). But he never intended for Nicholson to appear in Blood and Wine. ‘I didn’t have Jack in mind, I just had the idea for the script,’ the director told Time Out in 1997. ‘I wanted to do it as a very low-budget movie and I knew I couldn’t afford Jack. So I asked him, as a friend, to read with other actors and tell me what he thought.’ Eventually Nicholson put himself forward for the leading role.
Caine was semi-retired by the mid-1990s. ‘I took a lot of time out and wrote my autobiography,’ he told Candis magazine in 2000. ‘I got lazy and I didn’t want to go back to making movies. And then when I did, nobody knew who the hell I was. I couldn’t get a job – not a good one, though I knew I could make money by doing bad scripts. I’m sent a lot of those.’ Between 1993 and 1996 only one film featuring Caine got a cinema release – the Steven Seagal vehicle On Deadly Ground (1994). ‘Finally I got Blood and Wine. It was a movie I wasn’t ashamed of.’
‘If you’re an actor and you don’t act for a long time you sort of think, I wonder if I can still do it?’ Caine said during a public interview with Barry Norman at the National Film Theatre (NFT) in 1998. Frustrated with the quality of film scripts he was getting, Caine appeared in two historical TV projects as Joseph Stalin and F W de Klerk to test his acting abilities. He was nominated for an Emmy award for both performances. ‘Then I got Blood and Wine … I did that as another little test.’ Caine had opened a restaurant in Miami. Nicholson and Rafelson visited and asked Caine to play safecracker Victor.
‘I’ve known them for 20, 30 years,’ Caine told Hello in 1999. ‘They walked into the restaurant one day and said, “Well, you’re here. Do you want to be in the movie?” It wasn’t a very big part, but Jack and I had never worked together, and I love Bob’s work. So I agreed. And I had so much fun. Work became a joy again.’ The $26 million film was shot on location in Florida.
Released in the US during February 1997 with an R rating, Blood and Wine grossed a disappointing $1 million. A month later it opened in Britain, rated 15. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but Caine’s performance was widely praised. The picture’s biggest success was in Spain, where it grossed nearly $1.4 million. Caine won the best actor award at the San Sebastián Film Festival, despite only having a supporting role. The film was released on VHS in the UK and US during 1997. The picture made its DVD debut in the US last year.
Reviews: ‘When you have two pros like Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine, can much go wrong? Of course not. What the film lacks is any reason why we should care for anyone in it’ - The Evening Standard
‘Caine hasn’t been as watchable for ages as the wheezing old crook… Everyone’s good, but it’s less than the sum of its watchable parts’ – The Guardian
Verdict: Blood and Wine would pass without much notice if it didn’t have such a great cast. The film looks great, with Lorenc’s subtle score underlining the ominous, downbeat mood. Caine is excellent, giving his best performance for nearly a decade as the wheezing, flailing Victor. He communicates the character’s desperation and fear through every gesture. Sadly, he is the best thing about Blood and Wine. Polite and anaemic, the film lacks the body or iron of its namesakes.