Warner Bros. // 1966 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // November 3rd, 2013
"Have you ever thought of it, Sir?"
At one point in 1966's Funeral in Berlin, Harry Palmer quips about being ready to turn into Batman. If you recognize Palmer as Michael Caine -- who was Alfred to Christian Bale's Batman -- that might produce a chuckle. He might not have played the Batman (instead playing a sort of batman, if you recall the Lord Peter Wimsey stories), but Caine has done a lot in his career. As Harry Palmer, he's a secret agent -- although not quite James Bond.
Funeral in Berlin, the second in a trilogy of Harry Palmer movies based on Len Deighton's novels, is a Warner Archives made-on-demand release. If your DVD player plays these (recordable players don't), read on.
It's Saturday morning, and Harry Palmer (Michael Caine, The Ipcress File) is entertaining -- or perhaps not, judging from her sleepy demeanor -- a lady friend whose legs give the camera a workout. Palmer gets a call from the boss, who wants him to come in for a briefing -- and promptly get on a flight to Berlin, where a colonel wants to defect.
Reluctantly, Palmer shows up in Berlin as lingerie salesman Edmund Dorf ("I'm sorry. I just don't feel like an Edmund Dorf."). He promptly gets picked up by security officers ("Me British. You Tarzan."), and not too long afterwards finds himself sharing a taxi with a model (Eva Renzi, The Pink Jungle) who's taken a fancy to him ("With my irresistible charm, I want to know why, and who she's working for.").
Somewhere in there, Palmer meets the defecting colonel (Oscar Homolka, Mr. Sardonicus) and plans the man's escape. The distraction, of course, is a funeral in Berlin. Somehow, though, it isn't going to work out quite right.
Funeral in Berlin opens with a montage of the hustle and bustle of West Berlin, then contrasts it with the cold silence of the Berlin Wall. Soon, the action starts, and a man planting landmines on the East German side makes a dash for the border, and that didn't mean Taco Bell in the sixties. "Musician escapes to freedom," the then-broadsheet Daily Mail headline reads, and the man's music is played on the BBC in London the next morning so Palmer and his lady friend can discuss the recent spate of defections. Director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger) establishes the Cold War political climate nicely; perhaps he thought ahead to a day when there'd be movie buffs who just didn't happen to be alive during the Cold War. At the same time, he peppers his film with a lot of pop-culture references (Do you remember Tony Randall as Rock Hunter? Actually, that's prescient, too, in a way; Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was on Hulu not so long ago).
The movie is filled with oddball characters, most of whom have plans very different from Palmer's. He's constantly being deceived, double-crossed, and just plain conked on the head to the point where a villain jokes about his many concussions.
As '60s secret agent Harry Palmer, Michael Caine makes a very convincing traveling lingerie salesman; he's just not the high-profile James Bond type. Even so, everyone seems to recognize him as a spy, which could -- and does -- get dangerous in East Berlin. The bespectacled Caine plays the role with a knowing self-deprecation. At the same time, his deadpan gives him an air of firmness when negotiating with the colonel.
The picture's sharp for a made-on-demand release; Funeral in Berlin used to be on TV a lot, so the studio kept the prints in good shape. It might not be that important, since much of the action takes place in cars and taxis, with obvious rear projection of the Berlin streets, but you'll notice the difference between the movie and the faded, speckled trailer. It's mono but the score, often lush and orchestral, comes over well enough.
If you watch the trailer first, you might think Harry Palmer is James Bond. It conveys little of the humor and tense plotting you find in the actual movie, portraying the film instead as non-stop action and women (as does the DVD blurb, for that matter). Its narration is annoying, and at times outright rude.
I'll also note that, in addition to being unplayable in some DVD machines, this release of Funeral in Berlin is non-anamorphic. Thus, you'd probably want to play it on a pre-digital TV set.
While I'm at it, I'll have to crack wise about "HOTEL AM ZOO" in the background. Is it a place only occupied by morning radio personalities?
Warner Archives is undoubtedly hoping there are enough fans of Funeral in Berlin for decent sales, and they're probably right. If you have the right TV and DVD player for this mission, go ahead and buy it. If you're not already a fan of Len Deighton or Harry Palmer, you might still want to buy. It may seem a bit clichàd retroactively -- as you'll find with many a good genre film -- but Funeral in Berlin is one of the better spy flicks from the '60s. You can stream it from Amazon.com.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated