[box cover]

Funeral in Berlin

This low-key 1966 Cold War thriller was the second of three adaptations of Len Deighton's novels about working-class British counterespionage agent Harry Palmer. The first was The Ipcress File (1965, directed by Sidney J. Furie), and the third was The Billion Dollar Brain (1967, directed by pre-freakout Ken Russell). Together the trio generally is remembered as the best non-Bond spy flicks of the '60s, and Michael Caine brings a high appeal factor to each as deadpan Palmer, a small-time swindler pressed into Her Majesty's Secret Service in exchange for a reprieve from a lengthy prison sentence.

Faithful hardcore genre fans will find much to like here among the cloaks and daggers. Bottled within a plot involving a defecting Russian general (Oscar Homolka) smuggled out by posing as the corpse-of-honor during the titular funeral, we get a nifty Berlin Wall escape, our hero kidnapped, slippery identities and motives, dry witticisms, chilly cynicism, clever ruses, characters who turn out to be more than what Harry bargained for, and a "Bond girl" in the beautiful Israeli spy (Eva Renzi) whose loyalties are questionable and into whose arms Harry falls.

On the other hand, the pacing is slow and the twisty, sometimes flabby script might be frustrating for a viewer not fully engaged with such skullduggery. Unless this sort of spy-vs.-spy period piece is already your cup of tea, bring an extra spoonful of patience.

Caine, as usual back when he was still a little hungry, is worth the price of admission. (Funeral arrived the same year as Alfie, which attracted everyone's compass needle.) He does for horned-rim glasses what Sean Connery did for Savile Row suits, although the insubordinate and world-weary Harry exists in a world more convincing and less gimmicky than Bond's adolescent-male Disneyland. So it's worth noting that Funeral was directed by Guy Hamilton, who today is best known for his Bond work directing Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. (Okay, also Force 10 from Navarone and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, but who's keeping score?) Veteran cinematographer Otto Heller deserves a mention for the film's terrific look, especially the location work in London and Berlin.

*          *          *

Paramount's DVD release of Funeral in Berlin delivers a clear and vivid print in 2.35:1 (anamorphic). The audio is an okay DD 2.0 monaural. The original theatrical trailer is the only extra. Alternate monaural French language track, English subtitles. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne



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