12 Mar 2018

Harry Palmer: Billion Dollar Brain - Helsinki

There is probably no-one who is more associated with James Bond, without ever having played a part in a Bond film, than Michael Caine. He was probably, alongside Connery and Moore one of the coolest guys on the planet in the 60's (and I think still is today). One of Caine's most notable roles in the 60's is the anti hero/anti-Bond character named Harry Palmer which he played in a series of films. The spy thrillers were produced by the famous Bond producer Harry Saltzman in the 60's and there are several other connections to the Bond series. Funeral in Berlin was directed by the renowned Bond director Guy Hamilton (known for i.a. Goldfinger), who recently passed away.

In the third Harry Palmer film, Billion dollar brain, Harry has his own detective agency and is sent to Finland on a mysterious assignment. In one scene, after meeting with his former boss colonel Ross, Harry is riding in a car through the streets of Helsinki. They stop outside a police station where the famous Helsinki cathedral is visible in the background.

Harry and colonel Ross arrive outside the police station

Helsinki in January 2018 from the street Sofiankatu
The Helsinki cathedral is one of the few famous sights in Helsinki and it is located at Senaatintori, the senate square, in central Helsinki. On the street Katariinankatu, parallel to Sofiankatu where the scene was filmed, is one of the city's secret bars located, Trillby & Chadwick, which is well worth a visit.

The film's plot is significantly worse than the two previous Harry Palmer films, The Ipcress file and Funeral in Berlin but the Helsinki locations are interesting. At one point Harry and his friend Leo Newbigen are found on a rooftop where Leo is going to assassinate someone outside the Russian Orhodox church. The Russian Orthodox church is located quite close to the harbour and right next to the presidential palace, only a stone's throw away from the cathedral at the senate square.

The cathedral is also seen in the background

At one point later in the film, Harry is captured by the Russians and taken to their military headquarters, supposedly located somewhere in Latvia, Soviet Union. These scenes were filmed at the UNESCO protected world heritage site Sveaborg, also known as Suomenlinna, which is a Swedish fortress built by the Swedes in the 1740's. Finland was then part of Sweden. Sveaborg is located on several islands in the waters just outside Helsinki. The boat ride takes about 20 minutes.

It was built during the Swedish era as a maritime fortress and as a base for the Swedish Archipelago Fleet. It was regarded as impregnable and even called "Gibraltar of the north".

Harry's meeting point when arriving in Helsinki is the lake Töölö, located a short walk from the city centre. Harry is supposedly meeting with Dr Karna by the lake but a woman shows up and gives him the password - "Now is the winter of our discontent".

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