Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner
Running Time: 2h 5min
Ezra Lieberman: Did you kill Wheelock?
Dr. Josef Mengele: He betrayed me, he betrayed you, he betrayed the Aryan race!
Dr. Josef Mengele: You are born of the noblest blood in the world. You have it within you to fulfill ambitions one thousand times greater than those at which you presently dream, and you shall fulfill them, Bobby. You shall. You are the living duplicate of the greatest man in history.
Ezra Lieberman: You're not a guard now, madame! You are a prisoner! I may leave here today empty handed. But you... are not going anywhere.
Professor Bruckner: Cloning. What if I were to tell you that I could take a scraping of skin from your finger and create another Ezra Lieberman?
David Bennett: We have the right and we have the duty.
CoverUps.com Rating: 3 UFOs
By the CoverUps.com staff
Ira Levin's "The Boys From Brazil" edged out William Goldman's "Marathon Man" in the unofficial best-seller contest to exact symbolic vengeance on fugitive Nazi death merchant Dr. Josef Mengele. And in our considered opinion, what held true for the novels is double true for the movies.
Aided by expert collaborators on both sides of the camera, director Franklin J. Schaffner looks certain to engross a vast moviegoing audience and revive his sagging reputation with this admirably crafted and surprisingly effective film version of Levin's clever thriller.
Mengele has earned enduring infamy over his sadistic genetic experimentation with prisoners, especially children and twins, while the chief physician at Auschwitz. Inexplicably undetected in the years after World War II, he was eventually forced into hiding.
Goldman and Levin both invented nightmare scenarios in which circumstances forced the evil doctor — thinly disguised as a character named Szell in "Marathon Man" and called out by his real name in "The Boys From Brazil" — to venture out in the open, where well-deserved retribution awaited.
Levin buttressed his superior plot by refraining from taking revenge directly through his own stand-in, as Goldman did. Instead he divided that role between a professional Nazi hunter, inspired by Simon Wiesenthal and called Ezra Lieberman in the film, and a character who stands in the same relationship to Mengele that the monster did to Dr. Frankenstein.
Gregory Peck shows a flair for stiff-necked, pompous villainy in the juicy role of Mengele. He seems strongly stimulated here by the chance to impersonate a seething, hideous, self-righteous moral monster. He enhances his physical resemblance to the evil doctor by playing him as a man whose rigid self-control barely restrains ferocious vanities and power drives. Peck has more authority as a menace than I could ever have imagined.
Laurence Olivier, so effectively cast as the villain in "Marathon Man," becomes a wonderful and thoroughly convincing foil to the villain in "The Boys From Brazil." His mournful, frail, dogged Lieberman isn't an instantly endearing figure. Olivier gives him a piping voice that sometimes grates, and a shabby appearance that could hardly win friends and influence people. When he snags a Reuters reporter (Denholm Elliott), you can see why the reporter would duck this pestering supplicant.
At a meeting in a Paraguay, Mengele touches off a murder conspiracy designed ultimately to revive Hitlerism. Meanwhile, a freelance Nazi hunter, (played by Steve Guttenberg) manages to plant a listening device in the meeting room. Before being detected, caught and killed by the conspirators, he reveals the general outline of the scheme to Lieberman by phone.
Mengele's plan requires the death of 94 men, all civil servants or petty officials nearing the age of 65, over a span of 2 1/2 years. A team of assassins is assigned to execute Mengele's murderous tasks, tracking the victims, who reside in several different countries, and doing away with them as near as possible to predetermined dates.
While the killers begin work on their assignments, Lieberman tries to verify the fantastic story related to him by his ill-fated informant. Eventually, his detective work edges close enough to the truth to worry Mengele's superiors, represented by a former colonel played by James Mason. Mengele's superiors decide to terminate the project prematurely, thus sparking the enraged doctor to complete it himself — which ultimately brings him face to face with Lieberman in the home of an intended victim in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Levin worked to incorporate such topics as cloning and psychohistory into his twisted tale, along with the Mengele and Wiesenthal figures and elements from his previous mysteries, including "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives."
Heywood Gould's screenplay captures the expository flair and deliberation of the novel, while abbreviating and rearranging plot points.
All this preliminary expository care only increases the pleasure one gets from the witty finality of the closing sequence between Olivier and John Rubenstein; cast as a young Zionist from an organization inspired by the Jewish Defense League. The movie ends on a transcendent note of decency.
Schaffner's direction is an impressive feat of carefully designed and modulated filmmaking, a class job in the tradition of Hitchcock or Wyler.
With the exception of some stilted Nazi song and dance and an off-key scene with Olivier and Rosemary Harris, Schaffner maintains an almost exquisite control throughout. His reward — and ours — is a new movie thriller with the virtues of an old-fashioned one.