FUNERAL IN BERLIN
Review by Alex Haberstroh
Stars: Michael Caine, Paul Hubschmid, Oskar Homolka, Eva Renzi, Guy Doleman
Director: Guy Hamilton
Audio: Dolby Surround (English and French)
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Date: August 14, 2001
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."
Thereís always been something magical about Michael Caineís performances. Whether playing Scrooge with a bunch of talking puppets in A Muppetís Christmasí Carol, or a sadistic doctor in Quills, he always seems to bring an element of charm, realism, and purpose to his characters.
Such is the case with Funeral in Berlin, where Caine reprises his role from The Ipcress File as Harry Palmer, a reluctant ex-thief forced to work for English intelligence. This time, Palmer must go to East Berlin to help smuggle a Communist colonel out of the country. Although the mission seems simple, plenty of twists and turns abound, making our hero question who his allies really are.
The story, without giving anything away, is generally engaging, despite the occasional slow moments. The acting as well is terrific, with Caineís performance as the spectacled secret agent both realistic and natural, making Harry Palmer a very intriguing and likeable character. So why then are this film and the series it belongs to one of the lesser-known entries in the spy genre?
My speculation is that many dismiss the film and its series as just another attempt to copy the successful James Bond formula. While there are similarities between the two series: both are about the exploits of sarcastic, womanizing, British secret agents (as well as the fact that the Harry Palmer films are produced by Harry Saltzman, one of the pair that produced most of the 007 films, and director Guy Hamilton, who besides directing Funeral in Berlin, also directs Goldfinger and many later Bond films), the two characters are completely different in their approach. While Bond appears polished and regal in a tux, martini in hand, the ultimate weapon of royalty, Palmer wears a worn trench coat and sports a thick cockney accent.
Funeral in Berlinís (and Iím sure the other films in the series) audience is also affected by it being more the "thinking manís spy movie," with a plot thatís sometimes so complicated that if youíre not paying constant attention, youíll miss a telling glance or vital component to the storyline.
Summing up, while it did have its flaws, Funeral in Berlin left me curious enough to want see the other two films in the series.
The anamorphic transfer looks good for a film thatís pushing forty. Colors in this intentionally muted film come across well, with only the occasional instance of a washed out or faded look to the print (especially with some of the faces with almost a grayish look to them).
The audio, just as with the video, is appropriate for an older film of this type. I expected nothing spectacular, so the ProLogic track was more than suitable for my expectations. To probably no oneís surprise, most of the sound derives from the center channel in this dialogue driven track. The overall range of sound is not terrifically impressive and the bass doesnít have much of a presence here. But as I said before, what could one expect from a track like this?
All thatís included on the disc is the filmís slightly grainy full frame theatrical trailer. Man, these old trailers with the commentary over them sure are cheesy!
All in all, if youíre in the mood for a clever spy caper, this oneís a good nightís rental.