Funeral In Berlin / Billion Dollar Brain Jul 9, 2010 21:15:35 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Jul 9, 2010 21:15:35 GMT -5
After the success of THE IPCRESS FILE, James Bond’s low-key counterpart returned in the follow-up FUNERAL IN BERLIN, this time directed by GOLDFINGER's Guy Hamilton. This middle entry in this short-lived series is easily the best of the three. It’s a terrific cold war entertainment that holds up excellently today.
Like its predecessor, the atmosphere is more real world than the goings on in the 007 pictures and depicts the treachery and intrigue surrounding crossings from the Eastern and Western sections of the titular city. Harry is asked to evaluate the credibility of a prominent Russian, Colonel Stok (played by Oscar Holmolka), who’s made overtures he wants to defect. Along the way, some dark secrets of Germany’s wartime past surface and Harry tangles with both the Soviets and the Israelis.
FUNERAL IN BERLIN is a very deftly adapted screenplay. It captures the details of Deighton’s complex novel and fleshes them out expertly. There’s a griping climax that departs from the book considerably, but feels completely in keeping with its mood and attitudes.
Holmolka’s turn as the savvy Soviet was a big popular and critical hit when this film came out. Eva Renzi plays the woman with an agenda who picks up Harry. She’s voiced by someone else and looks like a sexier Patty Duke. As in the first Palmer picture, Harry’s bosses and colleagues are cast to perfection. We also get wonderfully evocative location scenes.
The three 60s Harry Palmer movies make a compelling case against the auteur theory as the least directorially stylistic entry is easily the best of the series. What flourishes are employed by Hamilton in FUNERAL IN BERLIN seem mainly to have been left over from THE IPCRESS FILE, and ape that picture’s skewed angle shots. But largely, he dispenses with style and serves up a gripping spy tale.
BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN was the third and final theatrical Harry Palmer picture, and rather than offering a sly counterpart to the Bond series, it approaches a near parody of them. Unlike the prior pictures there’s a larger-than-life villain this time, and things even kick off with a self-conscious Maurice Binder title sequence. After that, settle in for a 60s spy yarn that’s dated, but certainly unique.
This time, Harry is dragged back into the service to monitor an old American friend (Karl Malden) and his gorgeous mistress (Francoise Dorleac). The story ultimately leads to a fanatic American anti-communist (Ed Begley Sr.) and his plot to start WWIII by invading a Soviet satellite with his private army.
The film marked the first theatrical offering from Ken Russell who would go on to be the enfant terrible of British film industry for the next two decades. It offers a taste of Russell’s offbeat style, but he never goes entirely over-the-top, though its shift in tone from the other Palmer films is a little jarring.
When I saw B$B as a kid I loved it as a wild standalone Bond send-up. Seen in the context of the other two films and the Deighton canon, it’s the weakest of the three Caine movies. And taken on it’s own terms it’s audacious, but also at times off-puttingly arch. While the other two films riff off the protagonist’s cynisism, here we get the filmmaker’s cynicism in its place. There’s no one to root for, and by the end Harry is almost literally lost in the frozen landscape. Plus, the film has a not subtle strain of anti-Americanism, which would be fine if the Soviets were trained with the same jaundiced eye. (Oscar Holmolka returns as Colonel Stok.) At the climax, we watch the misguided American invaders die as they fall into icy graves. There’s not a lot of compassion or horror at these deaths, and in fact we see them sacrificing others to save themselves. It’s a kind of rancid scene.
Also, the “Palmer” character in the book eschews violence altogether, and usually finds a way to outwit his adversaries. (That spirit is very well captured in the climax of FIB.) Here he has a scene with Dorleac that borders on a sexual assault. This may have played in a Bond picture, but it doesn’t mesh with the “Palmer ”character here.
Malden is good as usual, what a varied career he had. He could play pretty much anything. The ravishing Dorleac had the unusual distinction of being Catherine Deneuve’s better-looking sister. What a face. Her final kiss-off to Harry is a terrific moment, one of the film’s best. (She was killed tragically shortly after this.) Begley gives a bravura performance in the pretty cliché role of the Texas blowhard. His big scene, one of Russell’s boldest touches, has him giving a bombastic monologue while the camera swirls all around him. It’s a pretty marvelous feat of acting. Also, Russell gets a marvelous assist from Richard Rodney Bennett’s moody score.
Unfortunately, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN failed to match the success of the earlier entries and as a result what would have been the final picture (the second novel) HORSE UNDER WATER was never made. What remains are three varied, but always fun, relics of the Cold War, each a terrific vehicle for one of that era’s greatest stars.