Recently I watched an old favorite of mine, 1978’s The Boys From Brazil. The film is directed by the always remarkable Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet Of The Apes, Papillion, Patton.) It stars Gregory Peck as fugitive Nazi War Criminal Josef Mengele and Sir Laurence Olivier as Mengele’s “nemesis” Ezra Lieberman. If that right there isn’t enough to make you run out and buy a copy of the movie right this second, wait until I get to the plot.
The Boys From Brazil (based on a novel of the same name by genre maestro Ira Levin) tells the simple story of a mad Nazi scientist who is leading a conspiracy to create an army of cloned Hitlers.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds like the best idea for an absurd comedy I’ve ever heard. You sure Mel Brooks didn’t direct?” Yes, I’m sure he was nowhere near the film (Steve Guttenberg IS in it though, so that’s kind of close.) Back to the point though, the film, in a way is an absurd comedy, albeit told in a mostly serious manner.
The film is presented as a mystery thriller, revealing little strange bit by little strange bit, saving the big whopper until nearly the very end (considerably lessening the implausibility of the central plot device in the process.) The movie is exceedingly well paced, especially early on, using editing and minimal, yet stylish production design and camera work to propel the film along at a dazzling and twisty pace. I knew that the movie was about “Hitler clones” before I watched it the first time, but I still find the way they reveal the plot in a series of increasingly convoluted set pieces that eventually form a cohesive whole intriguing every time I watch the film. Alone, just due to all of this the film is one of the best “Paranoid Thrillers” to come out of the 70’s.
However, the film doesn’t just play as a serious thriller, if they had done the story TOTALLY straight I don’t think it would hold together as well. Instead, through touches in the acting, some darkly humorous dialog, Jerry Goldsmith’s whimsical score and an underlying sense of “Yeah this would be horrible if it was true, but it’d still be damned silly” the film also manages to work as a pitch black comedy on some levels. The two points that most provide the film with it’s somewhat comedic tones however, are the performances by Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier.
Peck has never been much of a hambone; in most roles he turns in a respectable, grounded performance that classes up anything he is in several notches. As real life Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele however, Peck delivers a menacing, yet scenery chewing performance that borders on camp, but never quite dives over the edge. Peck tackles the role almost as a Roger Moore era Bond villain, almost. He leaves just enough dark subtext in the character to keep you remembering that Mengele is a truly sick, violent, monster of a man.
Olivier on the opposite end of the spectrum, especially at this point in his career, was known for delivering especially campy performances. As Nazi Hunter Ezra Lieberman we get the best of both Olivier’s. When need be Olivier delivers poignant moments of quiet dignity and mannered intensity as only he can. Then, there are moments when he pulls a few jabs from his bag of mildly over the top campness. Still, like Peck, he knows when to pull the sillier punches and together both men never let the film steer too far off course.
The rest of the acting in the film is good and solid all around particularly from Bond film regular Walter Gotell as a confused former SS member and James Mason as a seemingly giddy Nazi superior caught up in the conspiracy. The only weak point acting wise is the boy who plays the “Hitler Clones” is a bit off. He just comes across as a complete and utter asshole, but, that unto itself does add to the darkly humorous nature underscoring the film.
Overall, if you’re a fan of paranoid conspiracy thrillers, totally odd ball plots and pitch black humor The Boys From Brazil would be a great film for you to track down immediately.
8 out of 10 Experimental Hitler Clones
Up at the top of the page, I also promised a rant as well as a review, I’ll try and keep it short. Apparently, due to Nazi’s being in vogue along with vampires and werewolves again now, The Boys From Brazil is being remade by the talentless, watered down, Michael Bay knock-off Brett Ratner.
Like most modern remakes I’m sure it will be wretched, but there is an added layer to which attempting a remake of The Boys From Brazil seems completely and utterly stupid. When the original novel and film were released the REAL Dr. Josef Mengele was still alive and hiding out in South America, just as he is in both of the fictional works. The real Dr. Mengele did perform experiments during the war, which if thought about enough could lead one to think he might have possibly been looking for a way to clone or duplicate a person. At any rate Mengele died a year after the film was released. I imagine, now, twenty years later there are very few high ranking Nazi war criminals still alive and at large, much less any with the reputation and mystery of Mengele. Thus greatly lessening the intensity of the story. And, If the film is just going to be a period piece, set after the war or in the 60’s and 70’s when the real Mengele was running about South America, why remake the original already near classic film?
I just don’t understand who the audience for this remake will be. Closet Nazi supporters who will take any big screen action they can get? Survivors of the holocaust who want to see a bunch of Nazi’s getting their ass handed to them? Fans of the novel or original film, which must number somewhere in the tens of tens?
The short answer is, the remake is just a vanity piece for the filmmakers and production company. That has to be what all remakes are about now, certainly not doing anything brilliant or original with the material. The Boys From Brazil will get a few dozen car chases added to it, a handful of explosions perhaps. And, the cloning aspects, presented very scientifically and matter-of-factly in the original will be replaced with glowing rooms filled with stereotypical liquid filled mechanical incubation chambers. And any deeper messages and meanings, including the hopeful “nature versus nurture” ending will be erased in lieu of snappy one-liners and CGI effects. Hell, knowing current tastes, the movie might end up being an angsty melodrama that follows the tumultuous and heart wrenching childhoods of the poor, poor Hitler Clones. Yeah, that sounds about right. Perhaps Ratner will just kill two birds with one stone and bring in Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan to play Mengele and Lieberman, respectively. Just picture it:
Coming This Summer from New Line Cinema
From the Director of Mariah Carey’s Touch My Body video and that tepid remake of Red Dragon
Rush Hour: The Boys From Brazil: Part 4: The Last Stand
July 4th 2012 Get ready to send in the clones!
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