The IPCRESS File was a great film, so it comes as no surprise that the team behind it decided to make a sequel – or at least ‘some’ of the team. Harry Saltzman was back as producer, but taking over directorial duties was Guy Hamilton. Hamilton’s credentials couldn’t be questioned at this time, as he had successfully helmed Goldfinger – undoubtedly one of the landmarks in sixties espionage cinema. He seemed a fine and appropriate choice to entrust the second of the Harry Palmer films. Strangely, Hamilton puts in a rather workman like performance as director. Everything you’d expect to see in a film like this is on the screen and there are quite a few good sequences, but the film does not have the same visual flair that Sydney J. Furie brought to The IPCRESS File. There are one or two shots filmed on odd angles, but these lack the composition and atmosphere of the earlier film. They are almost offered as a token gesture.
Another departure is the music. John Barry’s score for The IPCRESS File is one of the finer examples of sixties spy film scoring. For Funeral In Berlin, Konrad Elfers provides the score. It is brassy German ‘oom-pah’ music and while it suits the film in some ways, it isn’t a fat slice of cool spy jazz – mores the pity.
Despite the changes behind the camera, in front we still have Michael Caine as Palmer (well that’s a given); Guy Doleman as Colonel Ross; and returning in minor roles are David Glover as Chico, and Freda Bamford as Alice.
So Funeral In Berlin is a film that is very different to its predecessor, but has the same people in it – which grounds it and gives the series a modicum of continuity. The plot itself is quite simple. Wiley old Russian General Stok, (Oscar Homolka) wants to defect to the West. He is in charge of the Berlin Wall, and a few embarrassing incidents have had him questioning his future in the Communist States. Colonel Ross, the head of M.I.5 sends Harry Palmer to Berlin to make the arrangements for Stok’s defection.
Now here’s where I am going to get into trouble. I may need someone to explain this to me. As I just mentioned, Colonel Ross is in charge of M.I.5 which is ‘Home Office’. That is to say, if an incident happens in the United Kingdom, ‘Home Office’ has to handle it. M.I.6 on the other hand are ‘Foreign Office’. If an incident happens outside the United Kingdom and it is deemed that there should be British involvement, then a ‘Foreign Office’ agent would be sent to handle or investigate the situation. The fantastic television series, The Sandbaggers, in its storylines, made tremendous use of the bureaucratic boundaries that exist in the British Intelligence communities. Now Harry Palmer is ‘Home Office’. At one point he even mentions that his new doctored passport, is far superior to the shoddy ‘Foreign Office’ forgeries. Why would Palmer be sent to Berlin? Surely that falls under ‘Foreign Office’ jurisdiction.
But back to Stok’s defection. Stok has some conditions that must be met before he defects. One of them is that the escape is to be handled by a gentleman named Otto Kreutzman (Gunther Meisner). Kreutzman has been behind many successful crossings over the wall. He is considered the best in the business, and if Stok is to go, he wants to know that the plan to smuggle him out of the East will be successful.
Adding to the plot convolution, Palmer manages to get caught in the middle of an investigation by the Israelis who are searching for a war criminal called Paul Louie Broom. The Israeli agent, Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi) and her team of vicious henchmen believe that Palmer will lead them to Broom. At first glance, the two missions appear not to be connected and Palmer appears to be an unwitting pawn in a much larger picture. Another fly in the ointment is Palmer’s West German contact, Johnny Vulkan (Paul Huberschmidt). Vulkan is less than trustworthy – certainly not the type you’d want to rely on when you’re in a scrape, and Harry manages to find himself embroiled in a few of them.
At the end of the day, Funeral In Berlin is a big step down from The IPCRESS File. But The IPCRESS File is a masterpiece, so slipping down a level brings you back to a bloody good film – and rest assured Funeral In Berlin is a good film.