Skip to main content

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

 

The Boys from Brazil
(1978)

(SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves, and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic (Patton), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision (Planet of the Apes), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

Mengele: You’re the living duplicate of the greatest man in history.

Because Ira Levin’s novel has an irresistibly absurd premise. Not so much the cloning – there are plenty who will tell you, perhaps most famously Donald Campbell, it’s alive and well and abundant in underground bases and amongst celebs and politicians, as much as there are those who suggest it’s one of science’s many deceit-conceits, and that any such apparently misfiring clones are either doubles and/or those with their MKUltra programming breaking down – but the minutiae of setting up the mystery.

Levin begins with an inscrutable poser; why are men of about 65 across nine different countries earmarked to be murdered over the next two and a half years? The answer is a nice little nature-nurture riff, for clones of Herr Hitler have been furnished with as similar as possible environmental conditions to ensure they grow up to be fully Fuhrer-capable, which means daddy issues (although, taken to its logical conclusion, one would surely be required to muster a handy world war, a home country in dire straits and need of rehabilitation, and some very dapper uniforms).

Levin previously showed a shrewd grasp for the punchy and commercially becoming with Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, so it’s no wonder this was snapped up as ideal Hollywood fodder. Unfortunately, the snapper was the transatlantic Lew Grade, he of the more-miss-than-hit film empire and latterly Raise the Titanic. Levin taps in to the deranged science of The Stepford Wives in order to explore genetic engineering at its most horrendous – at one point, Schaffner even has a character deliver a lecture on the subject with the help of film reels and a white board – but most especially, he explores the Hitler mythos. After all, he’d already done the devil’s child, and this was the next logical progression (The Boys from Brazil also, in Jeremy Black, found a far more convincing child psychopath than the two-years-prior The Omen).

There’s no need to interrogate the actual terrain of World War II and the rise of National Socialism – see the works of Anthony Sutton for a peek into the philosophy and financing of such excursions – when you have a made-to-measure bogeyman – or men – assuaging any doubts over motive. So too, the double-header of the equally invidious Josef Mengele personified as a white-caked Gregory Peck surveying his Dr Moreau-ish Paraguayan retreat and confirming every dreadful report about the man and more.

This kind of extravagance, legitimised by acting legends like Sir Larry, James Mason and (well, slightly less so) Peck is, in a way, doing the same thing as Marathon Man: inviting the fiction to run parallel with the official history and underpin it (in contrast, the forbidden nature of questioning the official history, running as it does in this case risk of censure, fine or imprisonment, should in itself make one deeply uneasy). It’s only really with Spielberg and his slapstick Nazis that Hollywood gets the true measure of the simplistic view encouraged, nay demanded, of us (of course, he would then recant to sombre and universal acclaim with the less cartoonish but more lurid and manipulative Schindler’s List).

Spielberg, in the “innocence” of his youth, knew to have fun with his Nazis, but there’s precious little sense of vim and energy to Schaffner’s film, as relentlessly schlocky as it is. I suspect that is, in part, because Schaffner has no facility for the absurd, less still for the thriller. After all, he was earlier responsible for a Best Picture Oscar nominee so inert it makes the average Sir Dickie biopic look like a thrill ride (Nicholas and Alexandra).

Olivier knows the kind of movie he’s in, and has a bit of fun with aging Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman. And as pilloried as his performance was in some quarters (Pauline Kael), Peck – replacing George C Scott – is also decent ham value in a picture Time Out’s David Pirie observed boasted “more phoney German accents than a prep school version of Colditz”. Perhaps a hungry young wunderkind would have serviced The Boys from Brazil with the lack of respect it deserved (Brett Ratner pre-fall from lack of grace, had been attached to a remake, which would have been exactly what it didn’t need, given his it’ll-do Red Dragon).

There really ought to be twinkle in the filmic eye after delivering a gratuitously gory finale – Lew Grade blanched at it, but Schaffner had final cut – in which Mengele is cathartically savaged by young Hitler’s kill-crazy Dobermans, and yet Lieberman is unwavering that the boy – even the boy Hitler – is not the man, in answer to Steven Moffat’s philosophical favourite “Would you Kill Hitler as a child?” He is thus the personification of forward moral thinking. Unlike David Bennett (Crazy Like a Fox’s John Rubinstein), who wants to do for every little young adult ubermensch running about the place pulling the wings off butterflies as a warm-up act. But you know what? It looks like Bennett was right, as the last shot leaves us under no doubt that having done for Mengele has left young Bobby Hitler with a powerfully sadistic leaning (pouring over piccies he took of death by Pincher). Well, more than the one he already had.

Brazil should be tense, taut, thrilling, but alas, it rarely picks up any momentum. Early on, there’s some urgency as twelve-year-old Steve Guttenberg scopes out Josef and listens in on his meet cute. There are individually strong scenes, but the climactic confrontation between Mengele and Liberman isn’t all that, depicting them rolling around on the carpet biting and scratching at each other. 1976 offered evil Larry and good Greg; this time it’s reversed, but their separate vehicles then (Marathon Man and The Omen) are both markedly superior.

Still, there’s a potent encounter between Lieberman and a very up-for-it Frau Doring (Rosemary Harris, later Aunt May), adjusting her skirt in come-hither fashion as Lieberman probes her about her recently-offed husband. Mason’s Colonel Seibert can barely conceal his delight when he informs Mengele, whom he evidently considers to be a nut, that the entire operation has been terminated. There’s also a particularly striking – because it’s so grim – murder sequence in which Sky du Mont beds Linda Hayden’s lodger, slits her throat and then hangs her landlord Michael Gough from the ceiling fan while wife Prunella Scales obliviously makes dinner downstairs.

Indeed, you can’t fault the casting, which also includes Denholm Elliot, Ben Stiller’s mum Anne Meara, Bruno Ganz (he has to give Sir Larry the lecture, and manages to make it look almost natural) and Walter Gottell (Gogol in the Bond series). A scene where the latter throws an old comrade off a dam after the latter urges him to follow orders and kill the man he has been told to – not realising it is him – is quite nicely done too.

The Boys from Brazil has the inclination of a big movie, but it’s then-fashionable propensity for uncensored gore and nudity is at odds with its old-school production style. And then there’s the concern that it’s maybe delivering both too much and too little. The Fourth Reich in South America is little more than a couple of full-dress fundraisers, so there’s absolutely no chance we’ll be following Mengele to his base in Antarctica (if indeed, Antarctica is the Antarctica we are told it is).

Mengele: You are infinitely different. Infinitely superior.

Perhaps surprisingly, The Boys from Brazil received three Oscar nominations (including Sir Larry and for Jerry Goldsmith’s score), although this was a point where even more overt fantasy (Star Wars) was being considered for the top prize. The movie made money, but not shed loads, reflecting its rather limited pedigree. It should have been ideal popcorn fodder, feeding as it did into thirty years of “What happened next?” lore. Instead, it’s mostly big, broad and banal.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.