Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Michael Caine Attends a Funeral in Berlin

In this 1966 follow-up to the previous year's Ipcress File, Michael Caine returns as Cockney thief-turned-spy Harry Palmer. The bespectacled Palmer still works for British intelligence and he's gotten a promotion. The bad news is that he remains on a suspended prison sentence and needs an interest-free loan to buy a car.

Palmer's latest assignment sends him to East Berlin to interview Colonel Stok, a potential KGB defector. Stok, who is in charge of Berlin Wall security, claims he wants to retire to the English countryside to raise roses. Palmer doesn't buy it, but his superiors view Stok's defection as a major coup. They agree to all of the Russian colonel's demands, which include having his escape planned by Otto Kreutzman--who has been a thorn in Stok's side.

Eva Renzi as Samantha.
Meanwhile, Palmer starts a relationship with a pretty Israeli model named Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi). While there's an undeniable mutual attraction between the two, each is suspicious enough to have the other's apartment searched for information. That proves invaluable when Palmer later discovers a connection between Samantha and Kreutzman involving a mysterious man named Paul Louis Broum.

Funeral in Berlin is one of those rare sequels that matches--or possibly surpasses--the original film. Caine is in top form as the insolent Palmer and injects his own sense of wry humor into the proceedings. One of my favorite scenes has Palmer complaining about his cover name of Edmund Dorf. When the forger explains that "all the best Englishmen have foreign names," Palmer replies: "Can I be Rock Hunter?"

Oscar Homolka as Colonel Stok.
Caine gets fine support from the rest of the cast, especially Oscar Homolka and Guy Doleman, who reprises his Ipcress File role as Palmer's cold-hearted superior. Homolka and Caine have such great rapport that the two appeared together again in the third Harry Palmer film, 1967's Billion Dollar Brain.

Like the best spy pictures, Funeral in Berlin interweaves multiple plots to create a tapestry of espionage. The recurring theme is one of duty--just how far will one go to accomplish the mission? At the climax, Palmer proves that there are limits to what he will do. That doesn't hold true for another character.

Funeral in Berlin was based on the third of author Len Deighton's Harry Palmer novels--though the character remains famously nameless in the books. On playing Palmer, Michael Caine wrote in his 2010 biography The Elephant to Hollywood: "I really enjoyed playing Harry Palmer in the three movies. In some ways I felt a certain affinity with the way his character develops during the course of them. In The Ipcress File, he was a complete innocent, just as I had been in the film business. By Funeral in Berlin, we had both learned a lot more. And by the time we got to Billion Dollar Brain I felt that both Harry and I had become hardened by our experiences."

Palmer confronts Colonel Ross (Guy Doleman).
Twenty-eight years after Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Caine reprised Harry Palmer for two HBO made-for-TV films shot back-to-back: Bullet to Beijing and Midnight in St. Petersburg. He described making these movies as his "worst professional experience ever."

It's interesting to note that while Harry Palmer was envisioned as the antithesis of James Bond, the first three movies had a strong Bond connection. They were all produced by Harry Saltzman, who co-produced many of the 007 films with Albert Broccoli. Saltzman employed many of his Bond film colleagues: director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger), production designer Ken Adam, and composer John Barry (who composed the Ipcress File score).

This post of part of the Michael Caine Blogathon hosted by Reelweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out the other fabulous posts in this blogathon. Finally, you can view a clip from Funeral in Berlin, courtesy of the Cafe's YouTube Channel, by clicking on the image below.


  1. Thanks for joining with this great post and now keen to watch all those Harry Palmer fils again. Thanks for joining with this great review.. and is that a wee blogathon I spotted for May 16th???

    1. Aye, we'll be announcing our annual blogathon for National Classic Movie Day on May 16th!

    2. Keep me posted with all the details and count me in!

  2. It's been years since I've seen the Harry Palmer films but I remember loving them. Actually, all of the mid-1960s depressing-English-set spy thrillers were great. I never knew Caine returned for two HBO films, but this line "He described making these movies as his "worst professional experience ever."" dampened my desire to look into those!

    1. Like you, I love the mid-60s, British spy pics like THE DEADLY AFFAIR and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.

  3. I like Caine's comparison of Harry Palmer's experience to his own Hollywood career.