Theaters: December 1966
Streaming: August 2001
Runtime: 102 minutes
Genre: Action – Classic – Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller
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
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
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.