The Boys from Brazil - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Boys from Brazil Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ June 9, 2014
It benefits from an intriguing mystery (though more ludicrous than disturbing), while Olivier and Peck have both their moments of excellence in a compelling thriller where they mostly seem to be in a hilarious dispute to see who overacts more and devours the whole scenery.
Super Reviewer
½ January 5, 2014
Exciting mystery and action. Olivier was a bit over-the-top and played up stereotypes to the hilt as an aging Nazi hunter.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ May 8, 2011
From the sadistic Amon Goeth in Schindler's List to the pantomime Gestapo in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazis have consistently proven themselves to be Hollywood's most reliable villains. The costumes, accents and mannerisms are so easy to recognise and replicate that a wide range of characters can be created. Nazis on film can be cold, ruthless and heartless, or scenery-chewing cannon fodder - the enemies of democracy, or something more playful and harmless.

Coming three years before Raiders, The Boys from Brazil attempts to have the best of both worlds. It attempts to explore serious ideas about history repeating itself and the dangers of scientific progress, within the confines of a pulpy plot and a great deal of hammy acting. In the end it does veer sharply towards the silly end of things, but even if it can't compete with Steven Spielberg, there is still much to cherish and enjoy.

Considering the context in which it was made, it's fair to assume that The Boys from Brazil carried a great deal more weight than would appear immediately obvious. Coming only 16 years after the capture of Adolf Eichmann, it was still faintly credible to believe that there were dozens of ex-Nazis hiding out in South America, harbouring bitterness and plotting to 'put things right'. Likewise this was nearly 20 years before Dolly the Sheep was created; cloning was still the stuff of science fiction, and the lack of palpable examples in nature made the prospect of a Fourth Reich all the more terrifying.

This feeling of weight is compounded by the talent on both sides of the camera. The film is based on a novel by Ira Levin, whose previous works, Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, had captivated the public both in print and on the big screen. Franklin J. Schaffner had demonstrated his ability to combine politics and populist entertainment in both the original version of Planet of the Apes and the Oscar-winning Patton. And then we have the two male leads, one a beloved Hollywood veteran, the other hailed as the greatest actor ever to grace the English stage.

With the bar set so high, you could be forgiven for reacting badly to the finished film. There is a conflict between the serious talent involved and the essentially pulpy, trashy nature of the story, which means the film has neither has the grace or poise to be a truly 'serious' work, nor the knowingness needed to take it into Flash Gordon territory. Some of the sillier moments of the film may produce the same belly-laughs and face-splitting grins that Mike Hodges achieved, but for the most part it is sadly unintentional.

Part of this silliness, as has been mentioned, comes from innate contrivances in the plot. While there is great potential in the idea of old Nazis cloning Hitler to bring back their great empire and enslave the world all over again, the idea falters when the actual technology is examined. We are asked to believe that the cloning technology we see on screen is both cutting-edge - according to Bruno Ganz - and would have been available some 25 years ago, so that Gregory Peck's Dr. Mengele could have come up with such a scheme in the first place.

If you manage to get beyond this initial trifle, there are various other contrivances and plot holes surrounding the mystery element of the film. Even if Ezra Lieberman were the most highly-skilled Nazi hunter in the world, it seems unfeasible that he could pick up the trail so quickly simply by sorting through newspaper clippings of civil servants. Furthermore, if Mengele's plan is to condition the young Hitler clones, why does said conditioning start with the fathers being murdered? Surely to be properly effective, the boys would have to be encouraged to be artistic rather than just assuming that they would be genetically? Finally, there is the small matter of the money - for all the stories about Nazi gold hidden in Swiss bank accounts, it's hard to imagine James Mason and his associates living quite so lavishly without detection.

Then there are the performances to consider. Peck had recently returned to public prominence through his role in The Omen, which avoided becoming preposterous by the gravity and subtly of his performance. In this, however, he is hamming it for all his worth, scowling at the camera, chewing the scenery and spitting out his lines in a German accent which, to be kind, comes and goes. Laurence Olivier is equally ripe, although his accent is more ridiculous and wanders more obviously. The fact that he was Oscar-nominated for his performance is proof that the film, and perhaps the Academy, had gotten sillier with age.

In a way, though, the performances hold the key to enjoying or understanding the film. Once you accept the hammy tone both Peck and Olivier are going for, your opinion slowly adjusts from one of mild disappointment to embracing the film as a piece of trashy fun. From this point of view the two leads are enjoying themselves, and in their final confrontation much of that enjoyment rubs off on us. Considering that both actors were well over 60 (and Olivier was recovering from kidney surgery), it's a thrill that they could actually do the fight scene, let alone do it so well.

If the fight scene is a case of 'spot the stunt double', then the supporting cast is one of 'spot the famous face'. One of the murdered fathers is played by Michael Gough (Batman's butler), and his wife is Prunella Scales, best known for playing Sybil in Fawlty Towers. Walter Gotell, famous for his role as a Soviet agent in the Bond films, makes an appearance as one of Mengele's oldest allies. He gets one of the funniest lines in the film early on, when he remarks: "And by killing this old mailman I will be fulfilling the destiny of the Aryan race?".

Bruno Ganz, who would ironically play Hitler in Downfall years later, shows up later on as a professor specialising in cloning. He makes the most of what is essentially the Basil Exposition role: his job is to explain how cloning works so we and Olivier can join the dots and unleash the twist. There is also a very good performance by Jeremy Black, who goes through a multitude of accents and one very bad haircut to convincingly play all the different clones of Hitler.

The film also has its fair share of B-movie special effects which somehow make it more endearing. Aside from fairly standard acts, like a dummy being thrown off a dam and Bobby's dad falling strangely after being shot, we have the sequence of Peck being mauled to death by several Alsatians. Here we get false arms dangling off Peck's body, obvious make-up (with scars that are raised up off his forehead) and bucketloads of giallo-red blood.

Within these final scenes The Boys from Brazil attempts - and partially succeeds - to touch on the serious issue at the heart of its story. It explores the danger of fascism or other tyranny returning if people forget about it; Mengele's experiment is possible because even those charged with bringing Nazis to justice have lost faith in their cause. There is also an argument about pre-emptive justice, i.e. should the clones be killed for what they may become, or should they be left to develop and choose their own destinies. The film does well in showing both sides of the argument; Lieberman destroys the list of the 94 boys, but then in a classic Levin twist, we see Bobby Wheelock in his dark room, staring with a morbid fascination at Mengele being ripped to shreds...

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting and enjoyable if completely silly film, which brings several interesting issues to the fore while providing ample in the way of entertainment. It's not as successful as Rosemary's Baby or The Stepford Wives, either as an adaptation of Levin's work or as a deeply disconcerting piece of filmmaking. But once we have embraced its hammy exterior, and forgiven its more obvious shortcomings, it emerges as something with bombast, brio, and just a little bite.
Super Reviewer
May 19, 2011
A criative and intriguing story. This Ira Levin's The Boys From Brazil chilling adaptation have a good screenplay and acting from Peck and Oliver. Fresh.
Super Reviewer
June 27, 2007
Funniest cast list EVER.
Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason and
Steve "police academy" Guttenberg.

That is unfortunately the best thing about this film which is really dull. There is a pretty cool old man fight at the end, even if it is poorly edited. Seeing Peck and Olivier beat the crap out of each other was pretty cool.
Super Reviewer
August 3, 2009
A decent but not great flick about the plans of Josef Mengele, now a resident of Paraguay, attempts to bring back the glory of Nazi Germany in the 1970s. Interesting idea with a sci-fi bent, but hard to believe that anyone would go to the amount of trouble and time it would take to set up a plan like this one. Mengele would have to have lived two or three lives to accomplish all this plan implied he did. Performances were tolerable, but I'm still trying to figure out why Steve Guttenberg and John Rubenstein, and even Lilli Palmer as Lawrence Olivier's sister, were there. All of these roles were so miniscule that the story could have easily been told around them. Just intriguing enough to hold your attention for a couple of hours, nothing more.
Super Reviewer
April 5, 2009
Far fetched, but compelling thriller, is based on the novel by Ira Levin about an aging Nazi hunter who uncovers a diabolical plot orchestrated by Nazi death-camp doctor, Josef Mengele. Seeing Laurence Olivier in an Oscar nominated role and Gregory Peck cast against type, is fun and they are surrounded by a solid cast. Well edited film is consistently entertaining, if rather ludicrous.
Super Reviewer
July 9, 2007
outstanding trio of legends Olivier-Peck-Mason. Intriguing and fun story.
Super Reviewer
½ July 3, 2007
Pulpy nonsense that sees a plot to clone Hitler and create a fourth reich. A great cast flounder in the innate tackiness of it all; little subtlety is on view, Gregory Peck in particular is bizarrely cast against type as a cold and cruel nazi, and never convinces. Add to this the fact that a young boy, Hilter clone or not, is demonized to almost Omen-like supernatural levels and it all looks a bit silly. Only the heavyweight presence of the likes of Mason, Olivier and Peck makes it worth a look.
Super Reviewer
½ November 19, 2006
Considering the star power it's not that good. But watching Steve Guttenberg die was fun.
Super Reviewer
July 4, 2006
Just like Denzel in Training Day, Gregory Peck leaves behind his goody-goody image and plays consumate evil as the Nazi doctor from hell. The concept of this movie is also very, very creepy. I won't give anything away. Just watch it!
Super Reviewer
May 23, 2006
Again, this is the kind of role where Olivier shines better for me. His Shakesperian roles, I fear, are overrated in general.
Peck and antagonist Olivier in this movie are wonderful. I wonder if they cracked each other up on the set? It is Peck's movie, however, in the end. Try a double-feature of this and To Kill a Mockingbird to get a sense of Peck's range.

The scene which proves the undoing of Steve Guttenberg--the hunt for the bug--is just one of my favorite Peck moments in this.
Super Reviewer
September 19, 2007
Peck is slimy and overacts quite a bit. Olivier plays a very different character than I have seen him play before, but his accent gets a bit annoying and he is really too old to be getting mixed up in this adventure. This movie has a really weird sci-fi plot about a handful of test-tube babies grown from Adolf Hitler's DNA and placed in environments to try to recreate Hitler's upbringing (making exact copies through nature and nurture). The same boy acts as three or four young copies of Hitler now in adolescence. It is Peck's scheme with the last few of the Third Reich left to make sure these boys live to adulthood and achieve world dominance with a Fourth Reich. Olivier is trying to uncover the mystery and stop the Nazi plot. The end is disturbingly more violent and bloody than I expected from a movie starring a sixty year old and a seventy year old.
Super Reviewer
September 22, 2007
This one doesn't age too well and the subject matter doesn't get the gravity that it deserves. Not a performance from Gregory Peck that I like to remember.
Super Reviewer
June 17, 2010
An intriguing thriller in which Gregory Peck in a chilling performance plays the fiendish Nazi war criminal Dr. josef Mengele, a real life monster that was the chief doctor at Auschwitz, and who personally murdered thousands of jews in monstrous medical experiments, he now gathers a group of his former colleagues to complete a horrifying project to clone Hitler. Mengele intends to have 94 fathers around the world, all who are 65 years old murdered to simulate Hitler's own boyhood. In a brief but nicely played cameo Steve Guttenburg plays a young tipster who informs a framed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman, played brilliantly by Sir Lawrence Olivier in a Oscar nominated performance he alone must now discover the extent of Mengele twisted plan and try to stop it. His search leads to three strange identical boys in different countries, all played menacingly by young Jeremy Black, these boys and 91 other from the world are all clone's of Hitler. Mengele hopes that one of his clones will grow to become the new leader of the Aryan race and create a Fourth Reich. Superb supporting performances from James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, and John Dehner. Fine direction by Franklin J. Schaffner and a exquisite score by Jerry Goldsmith, excellent screenplay by Heywood Gould from the best selling novel by Iva Levin. Highly Recommended.
Super Reviewer
½ August 25, 2009
The performances are top notch and the final scene between Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier is shockingly brutal, but the evil Nazi plot to "resurrect" Hitler is so outlandish and laughable that it destroys any kind of moral message that the film was going for. The whole issue of attempting to find and bring to justice the former members of the Nazi party was a tremendously complex moral issue and it remains one to this day, it deserved a more realistic treatment in my opinion.
Super Reviewer
March 8, 2013
...if ever there was a film that should not take itself seriously, it's this one.
Super Reviewer
November 18, 2012
The concept for "The Boys from Brazil" is essentially a very silly one, but director Franklin J. Schaffner does a great job of keeping it serious, even though the plotting does get it a little over-the-top in the finale, which is just about as unsatisfying as finales get. The first hour of the film is solid and gripping entertainment, containing gorgeous cinematography and the better parts of Laurence Olivier's and Gregory Peck's performances. After that, well, it's just kind of unremarkable, and the finale is even more so.
Super Reviewer
June 1, 2008
It's the late 1970's and the Nazi have one last idea for world domination. It's a good story with Peck and Mason as the lead Nazi's and Olivier as a Nazi hunter. Peck and Olivier are fantastic, but the creepy kid in this annoys the shit out of me. Not a great film, but worth watching.
Super Reviewer
August 16, 2007
Peck is a great actor and it shows in the film.
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