The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Article 4401 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2013
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Featuring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Nazi thriller

An elderly Nazi hunter is contacted by a younger one concerning a Nazi plot in Paraguay. The older man dismisses it as a joke until the younger man is killed trying to pass on details of the plot. The Nazi hunter swings into action, trying to figure out why Dr. Josef Mengele is plotting to have 64 middle-aged men from around the world assassinated.

Practically every guide that discusses this movie gives away the fantastic content, and I’m willing to bet that you already know what it is. Nevertheless, for the sake of those who don’t already know, I’m not going to discuss it here. Why? Because the movie is structured like a mystery, and the nature of the fantastic content is one of the crowning revelations of that mystery. The movie is probably a lot more enjoyable if that plot element takes you by surprise at the appropriate moment in the story; I know that my foreknowledge of the revelation made the movie somewhat less fun. Of course, it’s not the fault of the movie that I knew one of the spoilers from the beginning. However, it does have a few other problems as well. The more I think about, the more far-fetched the plot appears, and in some ways, the characters played by both Oliver and Peck come across as stereotypes. Still, I admire the way that Olivier manages to overcome that problem by finding ways to make his character’s humanity shine through; Peck unfortunately succumbs to the stereotype, and ends up chewing the scenery, but I feel that he was grossly miscast here. There are bits of dialogue that are quite bad, and the child actor who plays multiple roles here is never convincing. On the plus side, parts of the mystery still do seem quite intriguing, and certain individual scenes work very well indeed. The cast also features other well-known actors, including a cameo by Michael Gough as one of the targets of the plot. And I take my hat off to John Dehner; he’s one of those actors I can usually spot immediately, but here, I didn’t even know which character was him until the end credits.


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