Thursday, August 14, 2008

#47: The Boys from Brazil


The Boys from Brazil
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by Heywood Gould (based on the novel by Ira Levin)
Released October 5, 1978 (USA)

Here's a sentence that may blow your mind: The Boys from Brazil is a Oscar-nominated film starring Gregory Peck, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Mason. . . and Steve Guttenberg.

Yep, before good old Officer Mahoney was lighting up the screen in gems like Police Academy, Cocoon and Short Circuit (and those were the good ones), he was rubbing elbows with greatness in a film directed by Franklin J Schaffner, who directed Patton and Planet of the Apes.

Fear not, movie watchers, for Guttenberg plays only a minor part in the larger story of Ezra Lieberman (Olivier), a Nazi hunter who is tipped off about a gathering of former Nazi war criminals gathering in Paraguay in a scheme to murder 94 civil servants. The head of the operation is none other than the ultimate Nazi villain, Dr. Josef Mengele (played with evil glee by Gregory Peck).

Mengele's master plan is far more sinister: **SPOILER WARNING**he intends to use DNA to create clones of Adolf Hitler. By inundating the world with these clones, he hopes that eventually one will again rise to power and return the Third Reich to its former glory.END SPOILER

Combining elements of horror, science fiction and suspense, The Boys from Brazil is a damn fine movie that would have fallen apart with lesser actors. Peck is imposing as the diabolical "Angel of Death" Mengele. His German accent is pretty terrible, but he's so good it doesn't matter. It's refreshing to see the noble Atticus Finch in a darker role, and you can tell that the usually heroic Peck is relishing the chance to do something new.

I challenge you not to burst out with laughter when Peck attacks one of his own accomplices at a Nazi dinner party, choking the man and throwing him to the ground. His wife cries out for a doctor, to which Peck responds, "I am a doctor, you ugly bitch!"

Olivier is also great as the aging Lieberman, who grows more serious and seemingly empowered as he pieces together the puzzle of Mengele's plan. His questioning of a German orphanage worker from her prison is riveting, and his clash with Mengele is as good as a fight scene between two old men can get.

One of the more interesting parts in the movie is the "role" played by a young teenager named Jeremy Black, in his only film role ever. **SPOILER WARNING**Black plays four of the Hitler clones, using varying accents and bringing a necessary air of creepiness to the film. I guess if you're only going to be in one movie in your lifetime, playing the role of four Hitlers is a pretty good way to go out. END SPOILER

I suppose it's a bit ridiculous to suggest that the director of classics like Patton and Papillon does a fantastic job behind the camera here, but I would be remiss not to mention it. A Sci-Fi premise like this could so easily have become campy and hilarious, but Schaffner plays it serious.

For more on The Boys from Brazil:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Buy the DVD or Ira Levin's novel.

A scene from The Boys from Brazil between James Mason and Gregory Peck:

No comments: