The Boys From Brazil (1978)

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The Boys From Brazil (1978)

Post  BoG on Mon Apr 12, 2010 2:19 pm


This film is based on the then-recent 1976 thriller novel by Ira Levin. The story has to do with hunting Nazi war criminals and the latest plot by neo-Nazis to perpetuate 'The Iron Dream' begun by Hitler - the triumph of the Aryan race -  with an added sci-fi element. I've always found this film to be sloppily entertaining, full of escapism, numerous locations and with a lot of high-class actors either hamming it up or lending a deceptive air of gravity to the proceedings. The sci-fi element? Cloning.
There were a few films in the seventies revolving around cloning, mostly low budget efforts. This one is big. There are numerous fine actors in small roles, such as the memorable Hagen as an ex-Nazi prison guard, but the main character is an old Nazi hunter named Lieberman (Olivier). He's contacted by young investigator Barry (Guttenberg) who is in Paraguay and has stumbled across a meeting between notorious Josef Mengele and some modern Nazi operatives. Unfortunately, Barry is found & executed by the nefarious neo-Nazis quickly; he just manages to inform Lieberman that Mengele's plans involve assassinating 94 men throughout the world.
The character of Mengele is based on the real Nazi war criminal who escaped Europe at the end of WW2 and fled to South America. The thing is, this is kind of a caricature or comic-book version we have here; it's very strange to see perennial movie hero Peck as the ultimate villain Mengele here - the so-called 'Angel of Death.'  I think Peck had no clue as to how to play a villain; he was too accustomed to the hero roles. As a result, some scenes come across as peculiarly comical.

One example is a gala or ball held by the neo-Nazi and which is attended by Mengele. Some viewers may get queasy seeing all the Nazi symbols in this scene and a celebration of such a perverse doctrine. But, in the next minute, Mengele goes bonkers, assaulting fellow Nazi agent Mundt (Gotell), who he thinks has betrayed the cause (Mengele is wrong, btw). Mengele starts ranting about how Mundt has betrayed everyone there. Mundt's elderly wife yells for a doctor; priceless dialog follows:

    MENGELE: "I AM a Doctor, idiot."MUNDT'S WIFE: "Don't YOU come near him...!"MENGELE: "Shut up, you ugly bitch."

For some reason, I was reminded of some Monty Python or Mel Brooks films with this scene.

Anyway, the gist of the sci-fi subplot of cloning is that Mengele has constructed a lab experiment with the entire world as his stage. He had obtained cell samples from Adolf Hitler just before WW2 ended and later cloned 94 babies - all supposedly clones of Hitler. Mengele then continued the experiment by recreating young Hitler's environment as closely as possible: the babies were all given to the same type of parents that the original Hitler had, a young doting mother and an older father, in some kind of civil service occupation.

The next step is that each of the fathers has to die at about the same age as Hitler's did (Hitler was 14 years old when his father died); thus, the assassinations. Mengele calculates that about 1-in-10 of the new 'Hitler youths' will be a success - a recreation of the godlike leader to eventually lead a 4th Reich or something... and pave the way for the Aryan race. Jeremy Black, playing the various identical boys, is always snooty & arrogant with different accents to reflect the different locations.

Unfortunately for Mengele, Lieberman begins to poke around and ask questions, to the point that the current neo-Nazi leadership decides to close down the experiment before too many others become aware of it. Mengele is not pleased - only 18 assassinations have occurred. Mengele decides to take a personal hand in the plan. The climactic action is darkly ironic - Mengele's undoing turns out to be his own creation, another variation of the Frankenstein theme, as it turns out. It's also fairly bloody and involves Dobermans. In reality, Mengele managed to escape arrest and died a year after this film was released.
I've always thought one fallacy with the plans of people such as Mengele is the limitations automatically & inadvertently imposed on the world; he seems to want only blue-eyed, Aryan peoples to populate it and this suggests a dull proposition before even any other considerations - similar to the cloning theme; if all resemble each other, I guess we can all forget such things as 'variety is the spice of life.' I suppose it's a need of certain people to keep things simple & ordered in a chaotic world, but taken to a grand extreme. Mengele, as interpreted here, is a grand villain, with absolutely no redeeming qualities; Peck plays him as absolutely evil and as an absolute fanatic. He's not very interesting, except in that exaggerated sense of larger-than-life super villains. He reminded me a bit of, for example, the evil emperor in the Star Wars films. Strangely, despite the wild, perhaps even somewhat campy tone, this may have more relevance these days due to the 'advances' in cloning in the past couple of decades, when sci-fi became science fact. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
Interesting tidbit of trivia: actor Bruno Ganz, who has a small role here as a scientist who helps Lieberman to figure out who Mengele has cloned, played Hitler himself many years later in the film Downfall (2004). more cloned trivia: Star Trek TOS actor alert - actor Hurst appeared in the episode The Mark of Gideon
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