The Boys from Brazil
Franklin J. Schaffner
- Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengele
- Laurence Olivier as Ezra Lieberman
- James Mason as Eduard Seibert
- Lilli Palmer as Esther Lieberman
- Uta Hagen as Frieda Maloney
- Steve Guttenberg as Barry Kohler
Taut, creepy and intriguing, Franklin J. Scahffner’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel The Boys from Brazil is filled with haunting suspense and excellent performances.
In Paraguay, a young and curious Jewish boy named Barry Kohler has stumbled upon secret meetings of former Nazi criminals. He is in contact with Ezra Lieberman, an aging Nazi Hunter who is all but retired and living in Vienna. Lieberman is skeptical of the young boy’s findings and warns him to flee. Still curious, Kohler observes none other than Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor order his followers to kill over the next two years 94 65-year-old men in various countries around the world. Unfortunately for Kohler, he is discovered and promptly killed. Before his untimely demise, he at least manages to contact Lieberman who is now convinced something isn’t right. Although obviously failing physically and feeling the effects of advancing age, Lieberman is determined to stop the plan of Mengele and takes it upon himself to discover more. Visiting widows of some of the deceased men, he notes a startling resemblance with all of their adopted sons, who all have piercing blue eyes and jet black hair. Meanwhile, Mengele realizes that Lieberman is tailing him and sets out himself to finish the job. With time ticking away, Lieberman unearths the full nature of Mengele’s horrifying plan: he has taken tissue samples from Hitler prior to his death and managed to harvest them, creating human clones of the man and trying to replicate his upbringing down to the finest detail in order to begin the Third Reich again. Now locked in a battle of wills and intellect, Lieberman and Mengele face off as the aging Nazi Hunter tries to put a stop to the potentially devastating plan.
Franklin J. Schaffner crafts a tense and slickly paced atmosphere of mounting paranoia as Lieberman makes it his duty to put an end to the twisted plot posed to the world by Mengele. The pace may be electric, but it makes the characters more interesting and the various twists all the more thrilling. On occasion, the scientific jargon can become a little confusing and you may find yourself lost, but The Boys From Brazil is so well-constructed it can be forgiven for its lapses. The backdrop of history provides a terrific crux for the narrative and the theme of cloning has a certain ring of controversial topicality in this time of ever-growing scientific power and discovery. We also get a thrilling and disturbing game of cat and mouse that builds to a violent crescendo as Lieberman tracks Mengele and the two try to defeat one another. The Boys from Brazil certainly presents an intriguing albeit horrifying what if? theme that is hard to shake off once you’ve watched this film. It may bring in elements of science fiction but regardless of this, you’re left pondering what would happen if any of the events portrayed where to actually happen. Jerry Goldsmith is on hand to provide a grand but slickly menacing score, filled with marauding brass and pounding drums to increase and accentuate the thrilling and supremely tense atmosphere.
In a convincing departure from the usually respectable and upstanding characters he played, Gregory Peck exudes menace and madness as Mengele, who sets in motion a terrifying plan. Laurence Olivier excellently imbues the role of Lieberman with a tired quality but also the determination and wit to fight against the bizarre plot posed to him and the world. When Peck and Olivier finally lock horns late into the film, it is one electrifying encounter that can’t be underestimated in terms of its effectiveness as the battle between them becomes physical and well as mental. James Mason makes an impression as the loyal accomplice to Mengele, who increasingly begins to doubt his plan as the net closes in on his friend. Lilli Palmer is used well enough as Lieberman’s concerned sister Esther, while Uta Hagen makes the most of her one scene as a former Concentration Camp guard in on the scheme by giving her character a reticence and creepy demeanor. A young Steve Guttenberg portrays the curious Barry Kohler, whose stumbling onto the plot leads to his demise.
Thrilling, disturbing and at times quite frightening, the outlandish plot given gravity by Peck and Olivier make The Boys from Brazil a haunting film of bizarre suspense and strange paranoia.