“I’m not killing anybody in cold blood”
Michael Caine’s second outing as everyman spy Harry Palmer is a twisty thriller with plenty of double-crosses and ulterior motives. The film opens with a contrast of West and East Berlin. West Berlin is busy, modern, bustling with life. East Berlin is cold, austere, and gray. We then see a dramatic event. While planting land mines in-between the Berlin Wall, a prisoner makes a break for it, drawing guard fire and diving into a giant metal bucket attached to a crane. The crane swings the bucket onto the West Berlin side of the Wall and the prisoner happily eludes capture. This escape is just a glimpse of the nerve-racking environment during the Cold War.
In Funeral in Berlin, Harry Palmer shows no signs of having post-traumatic stress disorder, after the horrendous torture he went through in the Ipcress File. In fact, Palmer seems to be more successful in his personal life. When we first see him, it’s in his apartment, where a leggy brunette wearing only a pajama top, is trying to make him breakfast, unsuccessfully.
Palmer still works for spymaster, Colonel Ross, who sends him to Berlin to assist in the defection of Soviet Colonel Stok. Stok wishes to defect because he feels he’s being watched by his KGB bosses. The Berlin Wall which he oversees has let through too many illegal crossings. Stok suggests Palmer use top smuggler, Otto Kreutzman, help him get past the Wall.
Kreutzman’s plan is to transport Stok in a hearse across a Berlin Wall crossing point. In a twist, the defection turns out to be a ruse, Stok’s Soviet agents intercept the hearse, kill Kreutzman and put him in the coffin. We find out, Kreutzman was Stok’s real target and he used Palmer to finally eliminate him.
Meanwhile, Palmer learns from Ross, that Johnny Vulkan, Palmer’s German intelligence contact in Berlin, is actually Paul Louis Broum, a former concentration camp guard wanted for war crimes. Broum wants his identifying documents back. They have been kept as leverage by the Ministry of Defense. The documents would allow Broum access to 2 million in a Swiss bank account. This was money that was stolen from Jewish people during the war.
The climax of the film sees Israeli Intelligence follow Palmer pursue Broum as he attempts to cross into East Berlin via a hidden passage.
The first half of this film is a dull, dreary affair with no real momentum and only Caine’s charm and witty repartees holding the audience’s interest. There is also the loss of John Barry’s theme of the first film, which gave it a distinct feel from other spy films. The second half of Funeral in Berlin contains some plot twists and more action. Ultimately, the movie is still fun for fans of Michael Caine and his spy with a conscience, Harry Palmer.