Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Movie Review: The Boys From Brazil (1978)


A Nazi-hunting thriller with science fiction overtones, The Boys From Brazil is an entertaining romp through the world of outlandish conspiracies. The film is far from perfect, but nevertheless wildly successful.

The events are set in the present. In Paraguay, young American Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) stumbles onto a nefarious plot. Nazis old and young are gathering under the direction of the one and only Angel of Death himself Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) to launch a new evil scheme. Mengele orders the death of 94 men in nine different countries, all about 65 years old and with nondescript careers as civil servants. Before he is silenced, Kohler is able to send a garbled warning message to esteemed but aging Vienna-based Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), but the reasons behind the planned assassinations remain a mystery.

With help from his sister Esther (Lilli Palmer) and a Reuters reporter, Lieberman tries to understand what Mengele is up to and why, as seemingly random men start to die across Europe. Meanwhile, Eduard Seibert (James Mason), the head of security for the Nazi plot, identifies Lieberman's meddling as a risk and demands that the killings stop to avoid attention, but Mengele refuses to comply and pushes ahead. Gradually, Lieberman uncovers elements of an extravagant plan decades in the making, involving a former Nazi prison guard (Uta Hagen), an ominous teen-aged boy, cloning on a large scale, social engineering, and another attempt by the Nazis to dominate the world.

An adaptation of the Ira Levin book directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, The Boys From Brazil has a terrifically imaginative plot, filled with large holes but breathless enough to overcome them with ease. The film enjoys a galloping pace and two larger than life characters in Mengele and Lieberman. Schaffner delivers an exhilarating mix of action on three continents, conspiratorial plotting, and pauses for commentary about a world beginning to forget the horrors of the past, thereby creating an opportunity for evil forces to regroup.

While the return-of-the-Nazis central plot packs a punch, the film turns out to be most prescient in its introduction of human cloning as a viable development. A good 20 years before science caught up, The Boys From Brazil factually presents the technology, its capabilities and potentially far-reaching implications. That ground-breaking scientific discoveries may first be used by dark forces for nefarious causes comes as no surprise.

For all the gloss, the film has clunky patches. The action and murder scenes are relatively poorly executed, almost suggesting that Schaffner sent out the second unit when his main stars were not involved. And there is a set-piece involving a fight between two old men, complete with howling dogs itching to get in on the action, that dances along the line between ridiculous and hilarious. Head of security Seibert's firm attempts to derail Mengele's plot places him on the same side as Lieberman, and tips the balance against the antagonist, who now has to cover his rear flank while pushing ahead with the plot.

Nevertheless, the presence of Olivier, Peck and Mason easily overcomes the ponderous moments. The stalwarts have fun with their entrenched characters, Olivier picking up an Academy Award nomination and Peck earning the Golden Globe equivalent. Both men ham it up, but the outrageous plot deserves men who can tackle the weight of history, and the stars deliver.

The Boys From Brazil carries a wild warning within a rollicking thriller, and delivers it with Samba panache.






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