Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys: "The Boys from Brazil" (1978)

There are many spoilers ahead in this review of a chilling film that is given more credence today than ever before.

This review contains some spoilers. Laurence Olivier is Lieberman, a broke Nazi hunter being bothered by phone calls from a very young Steve Guttenberg. It seems Guttenberg has discovered a gathering of Nazis in Paraguay, including the elusive Dr. Josef Mengele, played by an unrecognizable Gregory Peck.

Before Guttenberg can give Lieberman details, he is killed. Lieberman learns Mengele has ordered the world wide slayings of over ninety civil servants who have turned sixty-five years old.

The killings begin, and Lieberman soon discovers a link between all the men- they all adopted a little boy, who has piercing blue eyes, pale skin, and dark black hair. Lieberman sees a couple of these boys and assumes they are a multiple birth divided between international parents. He could not be more wrong. We find out the boys are all clones of Adolf Hitler, and Mengele is trying to bring about another reich. He figures he has taken care of the "environmental" concerns of the boys' upbringing by killing the fathers at age 65, just as Hitler's father died at age 65. The bloody climax mixes a clone, Lieberman, Mengele, and a room full of Dobermans.

Franklin Schaffner directed from Ira Levin's novel, which seemed so far fetched just a few years ago. There is a chilling scene where Mengele talks of Hitler living into the 1980's, the 1990's, and the year 2000, a year that seemed so far off in 1978, when this was released. Schaffner uses a lot of silent scenes to convey the plot, like when Mengele stands in a broken down building and remembers this was where the women were impregnated with the clones. Another chilling scene involves the "experiments" that Mengele has been working on. These scarred, abused people now roam around his South American estate, and they are always in frame for scenes taking place there.

There are light moments, as well, that do not seem forced, but completely natural. Lieberman's run in with his landlord is perfectly choreographed. Olivier was one of the great actors of all time, and proves why here. He is Lieberman, he does not simply play him. Peck is equally good as Mengele, his scene at the farmhouse where he tries to pin a murder on Lieberman is brilliant. The cast has many recognizable names in supporting roles, all of them superb: James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Bruno Ganz, Walter Gotell, Michael Gough, and Steve Guttenberg, who is quite good in a type of role he should have stuck with before becoming the washout poster boy he is today (anyone for a "Police Academy" film? I didn't think so).

I had one quibble about a plot point, but I think the film makers explained it for me. Mengele flies from Paraguay to New England, and I thought, gosh, wouldn't anyone recognize him and arrest him? Schaffner shows us that Lieberman's battle is all uphill, and he is discouraged by those who would rather forget about the atrocities of WWII instead of tracking down old men. It is totally believable that these war criminals can travel around, who cares? I think we can apply this lesson today, as we try to get our lives back to normal following 9/11 and on the eve of war, we should not be so normal as to lapse into complacency and forgetfulness about the thousands are no longer with us.

What seemed impossible over twenty years ago rears its ugly head today, and makes "The Boys from Brazil" not only an incredible film, but an important argument about cloning humans.

If Hollywood can find this story and scare us with it, we should take note. I highly recommend this one. (* * * * *) out of five stars.