Disc Jockey: A Michael Caine Bond knock off comes back to disc

Eva Renzi and Michael Caine share a rare warm moment in "Funeral in Berlin." Credit: Warner Archive
Eva Renzi and Michael Caine share a rare warm moment in “Funeral in Berlin.”
Credit: Warner Archive

‘Funeral in Berlin’
$18.95
Warner Archive Collection

James Bond wrought untold copycats in the ‘60s. One Italian ripoff — alternately known as “Operation Kid Brother,” “Operation 007″ and “O.K. Connery” — actually starred Sean Connery’s non-actor brother Neil, plus series supporting stars Bernard Lee (M) and Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), a former Bond villain (Adolfo Celi, “Thunderball”) and a former Bond girl (Daniela Bianchi, “From Russia With Love”). (Both Lee and Maxwell claimed the producers paid them better than their regular gig.)

Among the least shameless (and, luckily, good) of this wave were the Harry Palmer films. Where “Dr. No” made a household name of Connery, these spy thrillers turned one Michael Caine from a rising star into a cemented fixture of the screen. Three Palmer films were made in the mid-‘60s, then two more for TV in the ‘90s. The second, 1966′s “Funeral in Berlin, newly reissued on DVD by the on-demand group Warner Archive, was actually directed by a Bond director, Guy Hamilton, who had just helmed that series’ high watermark, “Goldfinger.”

Thing was, the novels they turned to — by Len Deighton — aren’t globe-trotting, sex-drenched, sometimes sadistic imperialist romps. In other words Deighton was no Ian Fleming. Even with a Bond director at the helm, “Berlin” is relatively calm and relatively mature. In this installment, Palmer is sent to Germany to meet a Soviet Colonel (Oskar Homolka) threatening to defect to the West. This brings him in contact with numerous Cold War adversaries, including an untrustworthy German national (Paul Hubschmid) and a slinky Israeli agent (Eva Renzi).

But there are no outlandish set pieces. Palmer’s travels only take him to London and both sides of the Berlin Wall. The offices aren’t sleek but drab. (Rather than a flirtatious Moneypenny, Palmer gets an older lady with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.) The few killings have weight to them, and the overall mood is one of weary pessmism. As in the other two films — 1965′s “The Ipcress File” and 1967′s “Billion Dollar Brain” — Palmer is a cynical working class type coerced into government work. He rocks black rim glasses and, in Caine’s interpretation, a thick Cockney accent. He never smiles and in fact wears a permanent expression of bored irritation. Caine’s performance is borderline robotic; he’s arguably more intimidating here than he is in “Get Carter,” where he took no visible joy from bloody revenge or getting off his mistress (Elke Sommer) over the phone.

Unlike Carter (or Bond), our hero takes no joy from killing. (When a superior in “Berlin” demands he murder someone in cold blood, he balks.) The body count in the Palmer movies is low — although the final theatrical film, 1967’s”Billion Dollar Brain,” features a rather spectacular massacre, in which Palmer takes no part.) This is in keeping with the series’ knack for (again, relative) realism.

Both “Ipcress” and “Brain are sillier, even surreal. “Brain,” in fact, marked the feature debut of Ken Russell, the incorrigibly purple filmmaker of “Women in Love,” “Tommy” and “Lisztomania.” His insanity — including a barking mad performance from Ed Begley as a Texas oilman trying to use his riches to stomp Communism — killed the franchise while it was young. (Sadly, “Brain” is out of print, though “Ipcress” is on Blu-ray.) The needle in “Berlin” never comes close to the red, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s closer in spirit to something like “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” the sedate 1966 film of John le Carre’s novel that served as an anti-Bond refresher at the time of carefree spy romps. In that it’s a more accurate presentation of a time when mainstream cinema tried to act like the Cold War was over, when in actuality it was far from it.

‘Byzantium’
$29.98

Vampires, as we’re constantly reminded, are way in these days. But for every “Twilight,” there’s about 10 movies or TV shows that no one pays attention to. One that fell through the cracks was the latest from Neil Jordan, who two decades ago hit pay dirt with his film of “Interview With the Vampire.” Going much, much more offbeat, he tells of a mother and daughter (Gemma Arterton and the ubiquitous Saoirse Ronan) who’ve survived centuries into the modern day, constantly on the move from a cabal of sexist male vampires. Gory beheadings sit with wit and a fine, alert turn from Arterton, whose character opens a brothel in a seaside manse to make ends meet.

Also out:

‘Monsters University’
Pixar announced this summer that, following much criticism (although infinitely more box office), they would be calming down when it came to sequels. But that wasn’t enforced before this, nor the announcement of “Finding Dory.”

‘R.I.P.D.’
Sometimes movies that tank financially and critically get reclaimed long after the dust has settled. That may happen to this Jeff Bridges-helmed post-mortem action film — or, you know, it might just be objectively horrible.

‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’
Long a mainstay of worst-ever lists, this favorite — which wrought one of the better episodes of “MST3K” — comes to high def for some reason.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

National

PHOTO: New Zealand Heral uses wrong image to…

The New Zealand Herald made a terrible mistake of using the wrong image to illustrate the tragic death of Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland – a New Zealand-born Israeli soldier who…

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.