Review: The Boys From Brazil

This nasty, what-if yarn most memorable for Gregory Peck’s ludicrous performance as Dr. Josef Mengele.

The Boys From Brazil
Photo: 20th Century Fox

South America is turned into a virtual sci-fi lab for the creation of 94 versions of the Der Fuhrer in Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys From Brazil, a nasty, what-if yarn most memorable for Gregory Peck’s ludicrous performance as Dr. Josef Mengele. Like any good Nazi, Mengele is meticulous and partial to cognitive psychology, hoping to do away with 94 fathers in an attempt to recreate the emotional turmoil faced by Hitler when he himself lost his father as a teenager. Mengele, though, doesn’t get far, thanks to Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) and a pack of voracious Dohbermans. (The character of Ezra is loosely based on the real-life Simon Wiesenthal.) Jerry Goldmsith’s ominous score is reminiscent of his Oscar-winning work for The Omen but The Boys From Brazil is pure pomp and circumstance. Writer Damien Bona says it best in his book Hollywood’s All-Time Worst Casting Blunders: “With his Austrian accent and fussbudgety movements, Olivier is every bit as hammy as Peck, and a highlight is their climactic showdown, in which the two oldtimers end up rolling around on the floor trying to kill each other.” Now, if only Uta Hagen and Rosemary Harris were rolling on the floor next to them, Boys From Brazil would have been an bigger scream.

 Cast: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Uta Hagen, Steve Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, Lilli Palmer, Anne Meara  Director: Franklin J. Schaffner  Screenwriter: Heywood Gould  Distributor: 20th Century Fox  Running Time: 123 min  Rating: R  Year: 1978  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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