Funeral in Berlin (1966)

mpw-55638

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Written by Evan Jones (Based on the Len Deighton novel)

Starring: Michael Caine, Oscar Homolka, Eva Renzi, Guy Doleman

Tagline: It was going to be a lovely funeral, Harry Palmer just hoped it wouldn’t be his . . .

Trivia: Director Guy Hamilton improvised many elements into the film that were not in the script.

Funeral in Berlin, the second entry in the Harry Palmer trilogy, is about as dry as one of 007’s martinis.  This time Michael Caine’s unassuming cockney agent gets a new assignment: he must aid a Soviet Colonel who wants to defect to the West (or does he?). While not as stylistic or adventurous as The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin delves much deeper into the art of spy craft. Shot on location in Berlin, the grim Cold War milieu leaves a lasting impression in spite of the incomprehensible plot.

Directed by Guy Hamilton, who was just coming off the success of the James Bond extravaganza Goldfinger (1963) , took a more procedural approach in this film. The pace is slow and steady. Hamilton went on to direct three more movies in the Bond series including Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), and The Man With The Golden Gun (1975).

Once the story shifts to Berlin the plot takes many twists and turns as competing intelligence agencies play games with each other. Spies are everywhere in Berlin, ground zero of the shadow Cold War.  Differing agendas get caught in the crossfire and by the last act it’s impossible to determine who’s aligned with who (unless you are paying close attention).

Caine’s skillful performance saves Funeral in Berlin from being a total bore.  Harry Palmer’s neither likable nor unlikable, always a compelling screen presence, and capable of heroism at the most unexpected moments.  And unlike his counterpart 007, he often makes mistakes. We know he’s been coerced into working for British intelligence as an alternative to spending time in prison for a theft he committed as a young man.  So there is something admirable in Harry’s quiet contempt for his “not by choice” profession.

 

 

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