Michael Caine as Harry Palmer really is my favourite sixties spy. From the same stable as Bond, but with better plots, more realistic portrayal of the spy world and great actors and characters. Not relying on silly gadgets and big stunts, the films relied on a sense of drama and mystery as Palmer used his native wit to figure out what he was involved in and find a way out of it, using as little violence as possible.
In this, the second film in the series, we find Palmer sent off to Berlin to arrange the defection of a high value Russian. But as usual things are not what they seem, and Palmer is soon immersed in a deadly situation, as various bodies start popping up unexpectedly, and all the people he thought he could trust seem to be out to double cross him. And just who is the mysterious beauty who seemingly innocently bumps into him? The plot is quite engrossing as he follows the various threads, leading to a thrilling denouement in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Once again Caine is outstanding as Palmer, quietly working his way through his various problems, and trying to stay alive. I loved the Ipcress File, but in all honesty I think that this film is just as good, if not better. A rare achievement!
This edition is presented in widescreen with a mono sound track. The picture has not had any visible restoration, and looks a bit washed out in places with some scratches. It's perfectly watchable though. The sound is similarly a bit unclear and only in mono. There are no extras. The disc comes in a slimline case. So a great film, but the presentation is only acceptable. But it will do until something comes along. Four stars.
on 14 June 2001
As usual the machiavellian Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman) summons Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) at the most inconvenient time. So it is on a Saturday that the unwilling British spy and former thief has to leave a girl and fly to Berlin. A senior Soviet officer wishes to defect. Harry is not fooled, not at first. But events tumble over themselves in an ever more complex plot, involving Harry's seduction, the machinations of Soviet and Israeli intelligence services, the private conspiracies of British agents, German escape agents and a reconstructed Belsen guard. Nothing very good comes of all this in the end. There are winners, but not the obvious ones.
This fine production is from a golden period of British spy fiction and spy films. Harry Palmer represents a character typical of 1960s Britain, not a public school and Oxford hero of the 1950s, no distinguished service as an officer in the War. He is working class, cockney, cynical and rootless, doing it for the money and to keep himself out of gaol. The only character more cynical than Harry is Ross, an officer with a public school and Oxford background. This film does not come from an age of belief. The only character with any real convictions, Eva Renzi's Samantha Steel, is the most terrifyingly ruthless of them all.
So what does happen in Berlin? Is the defection of Colonel Stock (Oskar Homolka) real, a joke, or something more sinister? Who cares? Suddenly the action centres around greed for Jewish gold stolen by a Nazi and stashed in a Swiss bank. Just about everyone, it seems, is involved in some way and most seem to want the loot. Tension grips the audience, as it struggles to keep up with the twists and turns of Len Deighton's plot, as coincidence piles on coincidence, mystery on mystery, until the final resolution. In the end, Harry keeps his job, though little satisfaction it gives him.
Caine, so often underrated, turns in another admirable performance as Harry Palmer, his cynicism just sufficiently moderated with professionalism and tinged with reluctant humanity. Homolka is a wonderfully entertaining, utterly devious, as the old Bolshevik. The other characters are well-played, although Paul Hubschmid is rather colourless as Johnny Vulkan. This is well-made film both entertains and keeps the mind engaged with its involved plot.
Although `Funeral in Berlin' features Michael Caine once again as `spy' Harry Palmer, you do not need to have seen the previous year's `The Ipcress File' to appreciate the plot of this second film. Featuring again some of the leading players of the James Bond production team (producer Harry Saltzman, production designer Ken Adam, director Guy Hamilton - even the music by Konrad Elfers has more than a sense of John Barry), `Funeral in Berlin' has a distinctively different feel.
It is more intellectual than Bond for a start, more dour, but no less exciting. There is more intrigue too, less black and white characterisation, as we are continuously challenged to see on whose side are some of the main players. Does the Russian general really want to defect? For which intelligence service does Eva Renzi really work? And is the man Bloom friend or foe? I suppose you could say `Funeral in Berlin' falls squarely between the glamour of Bond and the monochrome intensity of `The Spy Who Came in from the Cold', another British spy film of similar vintage (starring Richard Burton) that focused on East Germany but which was filmed in, of all places, Ireland.
`Funeral in Berlin' is also a propaganda piece, made at the height of the Cold War, only a few years after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Thus we are told that there is little milk for tea in the East, where all we see are ruined buildings and empty streets. But despite the propaganda there are, nevertheless, some excellently-framed shots and some good set-ups, such as at what looks like the Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam and Checkpoint Charlie in the centre of Berlin. The scenes are made all the more real by the employment of good German actors in supporting roles.
Caine is an excellent Harry Palmer, continuing the spy's insubordinate relationship with his employer, British Intelligence. (The Chief of Police in Berlin remarks to Palmer's face how he (Palmer) is "so crooked they had to put you in intelligence.") But, unlike Bond, Palmer won't kill his adversary, even turning down a long-cherished loan from MI6 to buy a new car rather than kill in cold blood his opponent.
Alas, there are no extras on my DVD.
The concrete and semi-ruins of East Germany continue the gritty look of the Harry Palmer film franchise over from The Ipcress File. Now promoted after his work in the last film, the spy finds that his streetwise nature makes him the perfect person to deal with a request from a former Soviet Intelligence Officer to defect to Britain. Such a defection would be a coup for British Intelligence who perhaps feel under the shadow of the US, but the ever cynical Palmer thinks the whole affair isn't quite what it seems.
You needn't worry that being promoted might somehow subdue Caine's protagonist, an increase in rank and wages hasn't meant that Palmer is now cozying up to his employers. It's clear than Palmer isn't intimidated by his superiors - he playfully jokes with them and seems unfazed by their rank, he is far from sycophantic and they are clearly disturbed by his manner, even if they also appear to admire it at times. Though he is hardly a law abiding citizen, he works to his own ethical code and not just to the political needs of the agenda he finds himself involved with - this often gives him the moral high-ground and adds to the sense that his actions cannot be predicted.
Whereas The Ipcress File was a fairly simple story, Funeral In Berlin finds several plots developing into a complex thriller. Instead of becoming an unintelligible mess however, the various stories intersect at the end and it's impressive to see how neatly they conclude. Again Parallels with Bond are inevitable and the drudgery and expense forms of Harry Palmer's world continue to contrast against Bond's glamorous adventures. Life isn't all gloom for Palmer though, it's still a vaguely sexy world and he has an eye for the ladies, even spending the night with an underwear model - though in the world of espionage everything happens for a reason.
It's a shame that (at the time of writing) this hasn't yet been released on Blu-Ray, but the DVD transfer is exceptional with no dodgy compression artefacts. The film contains a lot of dimly lit scenes but they look excellent and great attention has obviously been paid to getting the most out of the image quality here. Maybe the video is so good because there's plenty of room on the disc - this is a basic release with only a old theatrical trailer offered as a bonus feature.
In a nutshell: Less slick than The Ipcress File and if the central character weren't Palmer then this would no doubt be only just watchable. However, Harry Palmer is a great character given much gravitas by Michael Caine - the result is a pretty good spy thriller which reminds us of a fractured, no-too-distant Cold War Europe and harks back to a time when style and script took precedent over action.
on 19 July 2011
Bond was smooth and svelte, drove an open Bentley and stocked his kitchen from Fortnum & Mason's.
This guy is a wide boy with a kitchen sink life - and glasses - pressed into the secret service and needs to ask his boss for a loan to get a car - any car - and gets refused...
But he's nobody's fool, misses few tricks and sees his way past the various dodginessess foisted on him during his Berlin mission. It's all great fun. I wish they'd made more like this.
It's made all the better for having the great Oskar Homolka as the defecting Russian general.
And like most of the better espionage thrillers, has a twist in its tail to keep you on your toes.
You'd have to be hard to please not to enjoy this spy romp.
Funeral in Berlin, the first of the Harry Palmer sequels saw producer Harry Saltzman moving the series from Rank to Paramount (who initially promised to produce his Battle of Britain epic) and a bigger budget that allowed location shooting in Berlin. Along the way some of the dog-eared individuality of the Ipcress File, with director Guy Hamilton providing a more conventionally efficient visual style than Sidney J. Furie's askew imagery and Evan Jones screenplay moving the story more into mainstream sixties thriller territory. If it's still not as big as Bond or as outrageously satirical as the subsequent Billion Dollar Brain, it's closer to a more overtly commercial John Le Carre, with femme fatales, shootouts and a twisting plot full of double-crosses as the working classy finds himself assigned to arrange the defection of Oscar Homolka's playful but deadly Russian general. If it's never quite as memorable or as iconic as Ipcress - it's Cold War setting seems almost cosily nostalgic today - it's certainly the best of the four follow-ups (there were also two dire 90s TV movies), and Paramount's 2.35:1 widescreen transfer offers better picture quality than it's predecessor if only because the film was shot on a better widescreen system giving them better material to work with. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
on 25 March 2009
The key to Berlin during the cold war was The Stasi, the east German secret police, as infamous and more brutal than their masters, the Russian KGB. I hoped Funeral In Berlin would, in Michael Caine's inimitable way, show Berlin as it had been before the infamous wall was removed, but I felt it missed the mark, as The Stasi and its brutality, as well as its efficiency, played little part in the movie. Caine's portrayal of Harry Palmer, the long suffering British Spy, was everything I expected, cocky, humorous, and as with the better Ipcress File, very very watchable. However, I think, Harry Palmer would have had an infinitely more difficult time in the Berlin of that era, and had this been used would have given a more gripping movie. The moody Spy Who Came In From The Cold movie, caught the atmosphere of East Germany, and Burton's portrayal of the used spy Alec Leamas added to the flavour of the hopelessness and desperation of the place, whereas Funeral In Berlins east German seemed pale by comparison , and the real east Berlin was lost in the movie, for me. But as always a great performance by Caine, who could only be Harry Palmer.
on 16 August 2007
The Ipcress File was first-class and it was always going to be difficult to make a follow-up which was as good. Funeral in Berlin doesn't come close to the success of the earlier film, for different reasons.
The first thing that struck me was that the soundtrack was way too insistent, almost as if it were trying to set the scene, rather than let the storyline set the scene and complement it by adding to the atmosphere. It didn't work - it was scored for orchestra, and who wants a screeching brass section when they've heard the delicious, moody, low key, jazzy number from Ipcress?
Then there's Palmer: he likes to be a bit of a joker and had some splendidly dry comic lines in Ipcress, but he goes too far here - you'll notice it in the first ten minutes - gags abound and, while they may be mildly amusing (most aren't even that), they do nothing to establish the credibility of the plot or the seriousness of the actors. If you want humour, go for Pierce Brosnan in James Bond (I saw Die Another Day recently and it was full of crap jokes and innuendo. I never realised how bad an actor Brosnan was until I saw it again.) or Sid James in a Carry On film.
The plot was okay but I thought it a bit muddled, with too many things going on, so it lacked the direct simplicity of the earlier film. There are agents from Russia/East Germany, West Germany, GB and Israel all vying with one another. Hmmm! Too much.
On a positive note, the picture quality is sharp and the colours very strong, and you get a chance to see Palmer being pulled by a gorgeous bird and Guy Doleman doing his suave bit as Palmer's unflappable boss with a superb accent and a great line in withering put-downs. The grittiness of this film is Berlin in the mid-sixties - how run-down and seedy it all looked, but this was only twenty years after the war and regeneration was still proceeding.
It's good enough for an evening's entertainment, but a disappointing sequel for Palmer.
on 12 August 2011
Compared to modern film offers, this is old hat! But Michael Caine, 60's films just exudes the times, film making, the actors and 'the cold war' as it was perceived at the period, not in hind sight. Perhaps you have to be 'of an age' to enjoy them as I do.
on 28 August 2011
I first saw this as a callow lad in a Sheffield cinema. At the time it seemed so exciting: girls' legs, drink, nightclubs, shadows, bombed-out buildings. And a plot I couldn't follow. I enjoyed this rerun. Especially Guy Doleman as Ross, Hugh Burden as Hallam, Caine as Caine, and the big old cars. And I'd been through Checkpoint Charlie before the wall came down. Nostalgic fun.