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Barry Kohler, a young Nazi hunter, tracks down a group of former SS officers meeting in Paraguay in the late 1970s. The Nazis, led by Dr Mengele, are planning something. Old Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman, is at first uninterested in Kohler's findings. But when he is told something of their plan, he is eager to find out more. Lieberman visits several homes in Europe and the U.S. in order to uncover the Nazi plot. It is at one of these houses he notices something strange, which turns out to be a horrible discovery. Written by
Oddly what stood out to me the most watching The Boys From Brazil, an extremely well cast thriller, was its tiring overload of mostly unnecessary orchestral score. And don't get me wrong; I wish Jerry Goldsmith were still alive composing scores like those for Alien, L.A. Confidential and Seconds. I think it's Franklin J. Schaffner, the director, who should've known where the absence of music increases the drama, instead of always going for the more-is-more approach. But it's a small (though indignant and annoyed) gripe, having little to do with the movie's substance. Let's talk about that then: What makes The Boys From Brazil scream implausibility is the same feature that makes it so engaging, and that is how it isn't a war thriller, a spy thriller or a political thriller, or any certain kind of thriller, instead taking a slice from each kind of thriller. It's about a war, but it takes place over thirty years after that war. Its characters engage in conspiracies and espionage, but none are actual government spies. It is also technically a sci-fi film. The thing is, explaining how would diffuse the freshness of the plot's surprises, but the point is it's a narrative that, whatever else you can say about it, is not the least bit boring.
Indeed the plot brushes comic book superhero proportions, but the diabolical master plan conceived by Gregory Peck's grimacing, straight-backed Nazi death camp doctor Mengele is a refreshment of that sort: In stories of bombastic color and adventure, especially those of godlike stock characters and dictatorial genius antagonists, there are often caveats that make them silly or forgettable rather than engrossing in their suspension of disbelief. Take the Superman saga's evil mastermind, for instance. Lex Luthor plans to make a fortune in real estate by cheaply buying large amounts of desert land and then diverting one of two nuclear rockets from a missile testing site to California's tectonic boundary, causing earthquake and radioactivity to wipe out most of California and leave Luthor's desert as the new West Coast. Yeah, I'm sure everyone's gonna clamor to be neighbors with the radioactive site of a 500-megaton nuclear strike and the biggest earthquake disaster in world history. I feel as though Luthor is part of a long assembly line of completely moronic, half-baked supervillains that are only brilliant masterminds because we're told they are. Dr. Josef Mengele is the supervillain I've always wanted to see our favorite caped crusaders fight.
Alas, the movie doesn't go that far out, but it does one better. On Mengele's trail is an old Nazi Hunter played by Laurence Olivier as a man who's almost all wit and seemingly no muscle. The way he walks, squints, appears, I feel like buying him a cane. This is good; it builds tension. He keeps getting pesky calls from well-intentioned young Steve Guttenberg claiming a secret sect of Third Reich war criminals are holding clandestine meetings in Paraguay. Olivier is doubtful, but Guttenberg is dispatched and Olivier traces the White Supremacists through Europe and North America, finding a thread of fishy deaths of several public officials. He interviews their widows, and is stricken by an extraordinary similarity in their adopted, black-haired, blue-eyed sons. I'll stop there.
The situations led to and the performances of Peck, Olivier, Uta Hagen as one of the widowed mothers and Mason as Peck's coldly sensible right hand are intriguing, because they are not what one would expect from a big-budget, star-studded sci-fi thriller by the director Papillon and Planet of the Apes. A shocking, strange climax is reached in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. There is the jingoistic and repetitive bearing and social graces of the mad Dr. Mengele character. And there is the grave, chilling moral question of what to do with the "boys from Brazil." I've stumbled upon some information on the real Josef Mengele, of whom I wasn't aware before. To read of his concentration camp exploits is to confront some of the very most excruciating and hair-raising images the Holocaust produced. There are two things that can be done with that material, and The Boys From Brazil is one of them. Yes, it turns one of the most depraved monsters about whom I've ever read into an entertaining comic-book mad scientist. But not only does Peck chew the scenery just the right amount, but he also creates a behavior that could well infer a work history of taking children's eyeballs and attaching them to the back of other children's heads, changing eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various limb amputations and other nightmarish doings.
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