Thursday, March 23, 2017

Funeral in Berlin

Year 9, Day 82 - 3/23/17 - Movie #2,576

BEFORE: Yesterday was packing day, one of the animation studios I work for is moving to a new office three blocks north that's smaller and cheaper.  The lease is up after nine years in one location - and though I've moved this office three times over the years, I'm nine years older than I was the last time. Heck, last time my boss wanted to move to a cheaper place, I threatened to quit rather than move to a three-floor walk-up in Soho.  But that time we stayed in place - this time, we're out the door.  Thankfully real movers are coming later today, so I may not have to lift a lot of heavy furniture.

Which is good, because a few hours of packing today (plus fighting with the phone/internet company over the time it will take to move our service) wore me out - I had to take a nap after dinner, just to have enough strength to stay up a few more hours and watch this movie.  Now I've got to hurry and get to bed early (3 am for me is early) so I'll have some energy for helping out with the move, at least a little bit.

Michael Caine carries over for film #4 this week, the first sequel to "The Ipcress File", based on the novels of Len Deighton.

THE PLOT: A British agent is sent to Berlin to receive a Communist defector, but the true situation turns out to be rather more complicated.

AFTER: Perhaps I was a bit too quick to judge the "Harry Palmer" series, because the second film is a fair sight better than the first one.  Gone is the silly mind-control stuff, and we're back to the basics of the intelligence game - the good guys (U.S. & Britain) vs. the dirty, dirty Commies.  And there was no better setting in 1966 for a film like this than Berlin, which was divided by a giant wall into East Berlin and West Berlin (with sectors controlled by the U.S., Britain and France).  This film places Harry in East Berlin, though, where he comes up against Communists and ex-Nazis with Israeli Intelligence thrown in for good measure.

It's funny, I already watched one film this year that started with someone escaping over the Berlin Wall (that was "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") now here's one that was really made when that was a thing, and features no less than three crossing attempts.  There's one at the start of the film, and two later on - not all of them are successful, and one of them's even a much rarer West-to-East crossing.  Harry, of course, gets to pass through "Checkpoint Charlie", because he's a spy, and he's got forged papers that prove he's an underwear salesman.

See, right there, that's what makes Harry Palmer different from James Bond.  Bond wouldn't pretend to be a mild-mannered underwear salesman, because he just wouldn't need to, and you wouldn't believe that anyway.  He just walks around saying "Bond, James Bond..." and doesn't even use an alias - and if he did, you just know it would be something hella-cool, while Harry Palmer has to pretend to be Edward Dorf, because that alias is just awkward enough to be believable.

There are some Bond-like names in this film, however.  Agent Johnny Vulkan is one, and Harry gets picked up by a hot woman named Samantha Steel.  But he figures she must have targeted him, because who hits on an average-looking guy with glasses named Edward Dorf?  Ah, Harry, if only you had a little more self-esteem, you could be playing euchre with some super-villain trying to take over the world with laser-powered submarines, with Pussy Galore at your side.  And you'd be driving an Aston Martin instead of hitting up your boss for an 800-pound loan to lease a car.  But then, you wouldn't be you, would you?

Palmer is sent to Berlin to meet with Col. Stok, who seemingly intends to defect - but Harry's insolent nature makes him question everything, including why a high-ranking Communist who's got everything would want to trade it all for a little house in the English countryside, where he can tend weeds in a garden like Harry's boss.  Something doesn't add up, but Harry's willing to go along with the charade until he can find out what Stok's real game is, and then decide whether or not he wants to play it.

There's more to the story, but some of the twists are quite good and I wouldn't want to spoil them.  You may recognize the actor who plays Kreutzman, the "fixer" who arranges these innovative border crossings, he also played the evil Slugworth in the original "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" movie.  If you grew up when I did, this haunting figure who wanted to get his hands on an everlasting gobstopper was total nightmare fuel - fear not, the actor died back in 1994, he can't hurt you any more.

I'm starting to like Harry Palmer now, because he's so talk-backy with his bosses, especially when he doesn't like his assignment, or thinks it's a load of B.S., which it probably is.  After all, nothing in the spy game is what it seems to be, right?  And what does he get for almost getting his head blown off?  A steady paycheck and barely a "Thank you" from his boss - see, he's the international spy who's just like you and me!

Also starring Paul Hubschmid, Oskar Homolka (last seen in "A Farewell to Arms"), Eva Renzi, Guy Doleman (also carrying over from "The Ipcress File"), Thomas Holtzmann, Günter Meisner (last seen in "Ruby Cairo"), Hugh Burden, Heinz Schubert, Wolfgang Völz, Rainer Brandt, David Glover (also carrying over from "The Ipcress File"), Freda Bamford (ditto), Rachel Gurney, John Abineri, Marthe Keller.

RATING: 6 out of 10 nightclub transvestites

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