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'Horse Under Water' 60s Film Plans

Posted by on February 26, 2007 at 14:19:12:

In Christopher Bray’s recent biography of Sir Michael Caine there is a very interesting passage in the 1966-67 chapter of the book on the plans to make a 1960s film version of Len Deighton other ‘Harry Palmer’ novel HORSE UNDER WATER:

‘The critical reaction to the film [Billion Dollar Brain] was the most negative any of the trilogy had had, and while Saltzman had plans to film Deighton’s next Palmer novel, Horse Under Water, Caine was adamant (rightly enough as it turned out) that he had done everything he could with the character. ‘I hope some new actor can give his interpretation of Harry,’ said Caine, ‘but after three films I don’t think the Palmer character holds anything for me anymore.’ Saltzman did look around for another actor – ‘We don’t want anyone who looks like Mike and he probably won’t even wear spectacles or even be a cockney,’ he said – but nothing ever came of the idea. Since Saltzman was talking during the period of Sean Connery’s absence from the Bond series, when the part was taken over – disastrously, as far as the box office was concerned – by George Lazenby, he had good reason to change his mind and let the series go.’ (‘Michael Caine, A Class Apart, Christopher Bray, faber and faber, 2005, p. 104)

It is said that the actor that Saltzman had in mind to replace Michael Caine in the role of Harry Palmer was Nigel Davenport. The quotes from Caine and Saltzman on the possibility of a new Palmer film are taken by Bray from an article in the Daily Mirror from 3 December, 1968. I find it very interesting that Caine felt he could do no more with the role of Palmer, and in some ways this mirrors Connery’s eventual attitude towards Bond. It is also interesting that if the film version of HORSE UNDER WATER had went ahead Palmer would have been quite visually and audibly different from the blonde and bespectacled spy in the raincoat portrayed by Michael Caine in the previous three films.

It can be concluded, therefore that the main reason for the plans to film HORSE UNDER WATER being dropped have as much to do with Saltzman’s experience with the change of actor in the Bond series at the time as they have to do with the relatively poor critical reaction to the film of BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN. It is very interesting to consider how the Palmer series may have looked had a new actor been cast for a film of HORSE UNDER WATER, Deighton’s third novel. It is also very interesting how contemporary events in the ‘rival’ Bond film series impinged on the Palmer film series and ultimately ensured that the Palmer character did not have a fourth film in the classic 1960s spy era.

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