erik lundegaard

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Funeral in Berlin (1966)

There's a scene in Funeral in Berlin where you fear that our Harry Palmer, the anti-James Bond of the 1960s, has given way to, well, James Bond. He shares a cabride with a beautiful woman, she flirts, she picks him up. The next morning he walks out of her apartment building with its very phallic fenceposts clustered near the front door. Then he heads to the local police station — he needs the address of a good burglar in town — and talks to an old friend. "Inspector Reinhart," he says, "do you find me physically attractive? Irresistible? I mean, if you saw me in the street, would you throw yourself at my feet?" In this way we know that he knows. The woman is a spy; she's after something else.

Written by:
Evan Jones II
Len Deighton (novel)

Directed by:
Guy Hamilton

Starring:
Michael Caine
Paul Hubschmid
Oskar Homolka
Eva Renzi
Guy Doleman
Hugh Burden
Heinz Schubert
Gunter Meisner

Quote:
"You're useless in the kitchen. Why don't you go back to bed?"

Further Reading:
Harry Palmer

Funeral in Berlin is the second of the Harry Palmer trilogy and is generally considered the best, but I think I prefer the first, The Ipcress File, which focused on the bureaucratic blandness of international espionage. Berlin is more dynamic.

After yet another defection over the Berlin Wall (which, at the time of the film's release, was only five years old), Harry receives word that a top-ranking Russian officer, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka), wishes to defect as well. Harry flies to Berlin where a meeting with the Colonel is arranged. Harry is immediately suspicious.

"I know everything about you, Colonel Stok," he tells him, "from the size of your refrigerator to the cubic capacity of your mistress." Later he adds, to Stok's consternation, "We get plenty of Russians. It's a pity you're not Chinese." Still, at the end of their conversation, Stok demands a foolproof method of escape — one organized by Otto Kreutzman (Gunter Meisner - best known to American audiences as Slugworth in Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), who apparently has a reputation for this kind of thing. "Kreutzman?" Harry says, tilting his head. You can see the wheels turning. It makes the audience think as well. I thought a) if Harry is right and Stok isn't really interested in defecting, then b) it might all be a ruse to draw out Kreutzman in order to c) kill him. Which, unfortunately, turns out to be the case. Harry never figures this out, which means in this instance I'm smarter than Harry. Where's the fun in that?

It's all still good, though. The dialogue is snappy, there are double-crosses and triple-crosses, and we get a lot of Michael Caine in his prime. At one point, Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi), the woman in the cab and the film's femme fatale, explains the bottle of beer she's carrying around. "For my hair," she says. "It's better. If you want body." Bond would've taken the obvious double-entendre and run with it, but our Harry turns away. And the look he gives is priceless: a kind of eye-rolling grimace, as if the straight line were just too much for his sensibilities.

—November 23, 2001

© 2001 Erik Lundegaard