The Boys from Brazil (1978)
“If they survive…will we?”
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason
Synopsis: A Nazi hunter in Paraguay discovers a sinister and bizarre plot to rekindle the Third Reich.
It’s the mid-1970s and South American countries like Paraguay are teeming with refugee Nazis, it seems. Amongst them is Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) who hasn’t been idle while hiding out. He’s been working on a genetics project that could have devastating consequences for the world, and after fourteen years it’s time to set the next phase of this project into motion. Bizarrely, this stage involves the murder of 94 nondescript civil servants from around the world, all of whom have wives much younger than themselves.
From this intriguing and mysterious opening, Franklin J. Schaffner’s movie delves ever deeper into the realms of silliness while his distinguished cast somehow manage to maintain straight faces throughout. Never for one moment does The Boys from Brazil take itself anything less than seriously, which is why perhaps it remains so enjoyable despite the fantastic elements of its plot.
Ageing Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) gets wind of Mengele’s nefarious plot thanks to the work of Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg), an enthusiastic American who, before mysteriously disappearing, manages to get a recording of a meeting between Mengele and fellow Nazis in which they discuss the plot. The initially sceptical Lieberman, upon hearing of Kohler’s disappearance, decides to investigate further, and it’s not long before he has unearthed a worrying similarity between the children of the civil servants who are being systematically picked off on specific dates.
The Boys from Brazil boasts one of Gregory Peck’s better performances. While he bears a passing similarity to the real Mengele, given the good doctor’s brusque manner and furious intolerance of anyone failing to follow his orders, he seems to have based his character more on Hitler, to whom he and his acolytes remain slavishly devoted. Olivier looks frail and old (he was 71 when the film was made) and overdoes the accent a little for dramatic effect, but he makes a believable Nazi hunter nonetheless, and never appears to be attempting to dominate the movie with his performance. The third notable member of the cast is James Mason as Mengele’s notional superior, who seems to look upon the entire movie with a kind of superior bemusement.
The lesser roles are filled with familiar British faces from the 1970s, such as Michael Gough, Denholm Elliott, Prunella Scales and 1960s sexpot Linda Hayden who is unlucky enough to find herself in the sack with one of Mengele’s younger followers. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic familiarity of these faces that enable us to overlook the shortcomings of the storyline and go along with the silliness of it all, but the story zips along at a fair old pace, and while the second half slows up a little once Mengele’s dastardly plot is revealed, overall The Boys from Brazil proves to be a reasonably diverting time-waster.
(Reviewed 13th July 2013)