Played

Funeral in BerlinM Funeral 1966

Theaters:  December 1966

Streaming:  August 2001

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  102 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classic – Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  6.9/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Guy Hamilton

Written by:  Evan Jones (screenplay), Len Deighton (book)

Music by:  Konrad Elfers

Cast:  Michael Caine, Paul Hubschmid, Oscar Homolka, Eva Renzi

Film Locations:  Germany, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $

Harry Palmer (Caine), an expendable British spy, is sent to East Germany to bring in  a Russian intelligence colonel, Stok, (Homolka) who is tired of his no-win job providing security for the Berlin Wall and wants to defect to the west. Palmer, a born cynic and an insolent one at that, doesn’t believe the Russian’s story, doesn’t accept that he is seduced, willingly, by a glamorous model, Steel, (Renzi) because of his charm and great looks, and he doesn’t trust his West German contact, Mr. Smooth and Rich, British agent Johnny Vulkan (Hubschmid).  With no good options Palmer just carries on and sees where his strolls at midnight take him.

Funeral in Berlin, written in 1964, is the 3rd spy novel in Len Deighton’s Unnamed Hero series and 2nd one that was made into a movie starring Caine. This book was preceded by The Ipcress File in 1962 and Horse Under Water in 1963.  The 4th book in series was Billion-Dollar Brain published in 1966.  All the books were made into movies except Horse Under Water which was scheduled to be the 4th movie with Caine but was canceled when Billion-Dollar Brain fared poorly with the critics and the box office.

Deighton, part of the popular triumvirate of British spy novelists along with Ian Fleming and John le Carré, wrote his first spy novel, The Ipcress File while living in Dordogne, France, an expat community of Brits, socialists and communists. All 3 not necessarily being the same person. The book was an instant success and it was quickly adapted into a movie of the same name in 1965 which also met with critical success.  His books were hailed for their realistic detail to bureaucratic bumbling and pettiness, germane to all large departments and agencies the world over.

Evan Jones, born to banana farmers in Jamaica, studied in Jamaica and the U.S., taught in the U.S., then moved to England to write for television and film.  Evan Jones loosely followed Deighton’s book when writing the screenplay.  In the book the defector is a Soviet scientist who has been granted approval to leave by the Russian security guru Colonel Stok.

Guy Hamilton, director of 4 James Bond movies, has a deserved reputation for injecting high-brow humor into his action movies and he does not let his viewers down with his, and Evan Jones’, interpretation of the Funeral in Berlin. The action is low-tech with tight scenes of suspense interspersed with Caine’s acerbic cracks at the establishment. Hamilton’s efforts are better than what Ken Russell accomplished in Billion-Dollar Brain but significantly inferior to Sid Furie’s The Ipcress File.

Michael Caine and Oscar Homolka are brilliant in the movie. They play off each others morbid sense of humor and dial the thriller down to a level of fun and games in a world of known mostly for deadly results.

 

The L.A. Times reported in 2007 that Howard Hughes in a codeine induced haze watched Funeral in Berlin, in the buff, 3 times in row.  Regardless of Hughes critique this is a good movie, not a great movie, but Michael Caine makes it fun to watch.

Out the Double Double

The Spy Who Came in from The ColdM Spy 1965

Theaters:  May 1965

Streaming:  July 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  112 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classics – Drama –  Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.7/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Golden Globe

Directed by:  Martin Ritt

Written by:  Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Sol Kaplan

Cast:  Richard Burton, Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom

Film Locations:  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,600,000

Alec Leamas (Burton), station chief for the British “Circus” in West Berlin, has just lost one of his operatives and is recalled to London.  He is given a new mission in London to play the part of an angry alcoholic, drummed out the secret service, desperately in need of money to get by, and to make his plight as public as possible.  The East Germans take notice of his condition and entice him to defect; trading state secrets for a cushy retirement.  He agrees and is whisked off to East Berlin to be interrogated. His cover story quickly nabs a double agent in the East German spy office but Leamas finds himself a pawn rather than the checking knight.

Germany after WWII was divided into 3 sectors in which Britain, the US and the Soviet Union administered starting in 1944.  From 1944 to 1948, Berlin was administered jointly by the 3 powers but in 1949 the Soviets claimed sole possession of East Berlin and declared it the capital of Germany Democratic Republic. The post-war East Berlin economy was ruined, as it was in West Berlin, but because of Soviet control it was excluded from the Marshall Plan used to rebuild the rest of western Europe.  East Berlin’s centrally planned economy had supposedly the highest standard of living in the Soviet controlled sphere of Europe and Asia but the inhabitants were leaving the city and country in droves, with estimates of 1000 per day leaving in 1960. To stop the emigration and retain skilled workers, up went the wall in 1961 and the East German soldiers were instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.  The East Germany security forces, the Stasi, formed in 1950, tightened their grip on the East German citizens, spying on everyone to break up any dissent.  Additionally the Stasi extensively infiltrated West Germany to obtain industrial, political, and military secrets, eventually bringing down West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974 because his personal secretary was an East German spy.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller. He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. Prior to his 1963 novel being published, Heinz Paul Johann Felfe, a German double agent that spied for everyone, Nazis, Soviets, West Germans, Brits; was caught by the West Germans, while in their employ, in 1961, and sent to prison for treason.

Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper wrote the screenplay for the movie and it follows the novel very closely. Dehn was a writer of plays, musicals and movies.  His first screenplay in 1950, Seven Days to Noon, won him an Oscar. Guy Trosper was a writer and producer from Lander, Wyoming best known for this movie and the 1962, Birdman of Alcatraz.

Martin Ritt, actor, director, writer, and producer, gives the viewer a somber message of spy craft without any glamour or gadgets.  Presenting a story about dubious principles and ugly spy results, he sticks to script and makes one of the best spy movies of all time.  This is his 2nd best movie, his 1963 Hud is his best.  The rest of his 30 or so movies are just a rehash of communist talking points and politically correct drivel. Nominated many times for Best Director he never managed to pull down Oscar or a Golden Globe.

The acting in this movie couldn’t get any better.  Richard Burton and Claire Bloom team up to create a tragic series of dichotomies revolving around youth and age, communism and freedom, innocence and cynicism, idealism and debauchery.  In the end they are both occupying the same poles, one learning nothing, the other wanting to learn no more.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Little Mole

The Little Drummer GirlM Drummer 1984

Theaters:  October 1984

Streaming:

Rated:  R

Runtime:  130-132 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  4.5/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.4/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  George Roy Hill

Written by:  Loring Mandel (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Dave Grusin

Cast:  Diane Keaton, Yorgo Voyagis, Klaus Kinski

Film Locations:  Germany, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, UK

Budget:  $20,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,828,841

Charlie (Keaton), a creator of alternate realities and a so-so actress believes in the Palestinian cause; in their quest for a country and peace.  She is recruited by Israeli intelligence, telling her they also want peace. They want her help in finding a Palestinian terrorist bomber, using her well honed abilities at deception and misdirection.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller.  He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire  without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. In 1983 he broke from his successful template of cold war spy novels and wrote about the ethical ambiguity between Palestinian and Israeli methods of prosecuting and defending against acts of terror in his novel, The Little Drummer Girl. The novel was the 4th highest selling novel in the US in 1983. Loring Mandel is mainly known for his long-time writing involvement for the TV soap opera, Love of Life and his 2001 screenplay for the Nazi final solution movie, Conspiracy depicting the 1942 Wannsee Conference.  His screenplay for The Little Drummer Girl is a faithful and true rendition of le Carre’s novel.

George Roy Hill directed 14 movies, 8 were nominated Oscars and 9 for Golden Globes. Four of the movies won Oscars and 3 won Golden Globes. He was nominated, but didn’t win, the Best Director Academy Award for the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. His high water mark came in 1974 when he won the Best Director Academy Award for the 1973 movie The Sting. His movies slowly declined in quality after that, with his last 2 films, The Little Drummer Girl and Funny Farm receiving little praise from either the public or audiences. His direction of The Little Drummer Girl was not spectacular, workman-like rather, but that wasn’t what destroyed this movie, that distinction belongs to Diane Keaton.

Diane Keaton is absolutely horrendous in this movie.  Some of the polite critics say she was miscast, which is true, but that doesn’t negate the fact that throughout this movie she just recites lines without conviction or is capable of displaying any proper scene awareness.  Diane Keaton made her name in 1970s acting in movies with the incestuous Woody Allen.  The apogee of her career  came in 1977 with her playing Annie Hall in the movie of the same name.  It has been downhill for her ever since.

This is a movie that you never need to watch unless you wish to watch all of John le Carre’s books come to life on the big screen. Just be aware that the story is good but Keaton is painful to watch.

Vengeance is Bad Until it is Good

American Assassin  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 111-112 minutesM Assassin 2017

Genre:  Action-Spy-Thriller

els – 5.5/10

IMDb – 6.2/10

Amazon – 3.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 4.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore – 45/100

Metacritic User Score – 6.0/10

Directed by:  Michael Cuesta

Written by:  Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz

Music by:  Steven Price

Cast:  Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan

Film Locations:   Birmingham and London, England; Rome, Italy; Valletta, Malta; Phuket, Thailand

Budget:   ~$33,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $66,000,000+

Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) lost his fiancé, minutes after proposing to her, to mass murdering, middle-eastern terrorists on the beaches of Spain (actually shot in Phuket). Rapp vows revenge for her death and begins training himself to go after and kill all the terrorists involved.  The CIA notices him and monitors his progress, eventually deciding to bring him into the fold and continue his training under the former SEAL, Stan Hurley (Keaton). The plot begins to thicken as Rapp and Hurley investigate a series of terrorist attacks that eventually lead to the realization that middle-eastern elements are trying to acquire a nuclear device and use it to start a world war.

The movie is based on Vince Flynn’s 1994 novel of the same name with plans for making the movie beginning back in 2012, finally leading to actual filming in 2016. The movie is obviously intended as the opening shot for a long running spy-thriller franchise.  It appears that the choice of O’Brien to fill the lead as a 20 something young adult is meant to demonstrate, with time, his progression into a personage with a Bourne or Bond countenance in the subsequent movies. Hopefully it will work.

The professional class of critics have panned this flick with no mercy. The major dig being that the story is stale and has been told a million times before, and usually better. On the other hand the movie paying public likes this movie for the action and the mindless entertainment that it is; nothing more. The filming and cinematography are beautiful with competent acting all around. Yes, the story could have used some sprucing  up, mainly around the convoluted messaging on the morality of revenge, but I’ll reserve judgement until after the sophomore release.  Feet up and pass the popcorn.

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