The Boys from Brazil (film)

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The Boys from Brazil
Boys from brazil.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFranklin J. Schaffner
Produced byMartin Richards
Stanley O'Toole
Robert Fryer
Screenplay byHeywood Gould
Based onThe Boys from Brazil
by Ira Levin
StarringGregory Peck
Laurence Olivier
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byRobert Swink
ITC Entertainment
Producer Circle
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 5, 1978 (1978-10-05)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$12 million[2]
Box office$19,000,000[3]
$7,600,000 (rentals)

The Boys from Brazil is a 1978 British-American science fiction thriller film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It stars Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, and features James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Anne Meara, Denholm Elliott, and Steve Guttenberg in supporting roles. The film is based on the 1976 novel of the same title by Ira Levin, and was nominated for three Academy Awards.


Young, well-intentioned Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) stumbles upon a secret organisation of Third Reich war criminals holding clandestine meetings in Paraguay and finds that Dr Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck), the infamous Auschwitz doctor, is with them. He phones Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier), an ageing Nazi hunter living in Vienna, Austria, with this information. A highly sceptical Lieberman tries to brush Kohler's claims aside, telling him that it is already well known that Mengele is living in Paraguay.

Having learned when and where the next meeting to include Mengele is scheduled to occur, Kohler records part of it using a hidden microphone, but is discovered and killed while making another phone call to Lieberman. Before the phone is hung up with Lieberman on the other end, he hears the recorded voice of Mengele ordering a group of ex-Nazis to kill 94 men in 9 different countries. These 94 men targeted for assassination by Mengele consist of 16 men in West Germany, 14 men in Sweden, 13 men in the United Kingdom, 12 men in the United States, 10 men in Norway, 9 men in Austria, 8 men in the Netherlands, 6 men in Denmark, and 6 men in Canada.

Although frail, Lieberman follows Kohler's leads and begins travelling throughout Europe and North America to investigate the suspicious deaths of a number of ageing civil servants. He meets several of their widows and is amazed to find an uncanny resemblance in their adopted, black-haired, blue-eyed sons. It is also made clear that, at the time of their deaths, all the civil servants were aged around 65 and had cold, domineering and abusive attitudes towards their adopted sons, while their wives were around 42 and doted on the sons.

Lieberman gains insight from Frieda Maloney (Uta Hagen), an incarcerated former Nazi concentration-camp guard who worked with the adoption agency, before realising during a meeting with Professor Bruckner (Bruno Ganz), an expert on cloning, the terrible truth behind the Nazi plan: Mengele, in the 1960s, had secluded several surrogate mothers in a Brazilian clinic and implanted them with zygotes each carrying a sample of Adolf Hitler's DNA preserved since World War II. 94 clones of Hitler had then been born and sent to different parts of the world for adoption. In the hopes that one or more of the boys will turn out like the original Hitler, Mengele has arranged for all of them to be placed with foster parents similar to Hitler's own, and is assassinating their foster fathers at the same age at which Hitler's own died.

As Lieberman uncovers more of the plot, Mengele's superiors become more unnerved. After Mengele happens to meet (and then attacks) one of the agents he thought was in Europe implementing his scheme, Mengele's principal contact, Eduard Seibert (James Mason), informs him that the scheme has been aborted to prevent Lieberman from exposing it to the authorities. Mengele storms out, pledging that the operation will continue.

Seibert and his men destroy Mengele's jungle estate after killing his guards and servants. Mengele himself, however, has already left, intent on trying to continue his plan. He travels to rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where one of the Hitler clones, Bobby Wheelock (Jeremy Black), lives on a farm with his parents. There he murders the boy's father (John Dehner), a Doberman pinscher breeder, and waits for Lieberman, who is on his way to the farm to warn Mr. Wheelock of Mengele's intention to kill him.

The instant Lieberman arrives and sees Mengele, he attacks the doctor in a fury. Mengele gains the upper hand and shoots Lieberman. He taunts Lieberman by explaining his plan to return Hitler to the world and that he already started the operation in Berghof in 1943. Then, with one desperate lunge, Lieberman opens the cupboard where the Dobermans are held and turns them loose. The dogs corner Mengele and attack him. Bobby arrives home from school and, despite being able to recognise from the carnage that something is wrong, calls off the dogs and tries to find out what has happened.

The injured Mengele, having now encountered one of his clones for the first time, tells Bobby how much he admires him, and explains that he is cloned from Hitler. Bobby doubts his story, and is also suspicious of Mengele because the dogs are trained to attack anyone who threatens his family. Lieberman tells Bobby that Mengele has killed his father and urges him to notify the police. Bobby checks the house and finds his dead father in the basement. He rushes back upstairs and sets the vicious dogs on Mengele once again, coldly relishing his bloody death. Bobby then helps Lieberman, but only after Lieberman promises not to tell the police about the incident.

Later, while recovering from his injuries in a hospital, Lieberman is encouraged by an American Nazi-hunter, David Bennett (John Rubinstein) to expose Mengele's scheme to the world. He asks Lieberman to hand over the list (which Lieberman had taken from Mengele's body while Bobby was calling for an ambulance) identifying the names and whereabouts of the other boys from around the world, so that they can be systematically killed before growing up to become bloody tyrants. Lieberman objects on the grounds that they are mere children, and he burns the list before anyone can read it.


Production notes[edit]

According to producer Martin Richards, Robert Mulligan was originally offered to direct the film.[4]

Peck agreed to portray Mengele only because he had wanted to work with Olivier.[5] Mason initially expressed interest in playing either Mengele or Lieberman.[6] To prepare for the roles of the European clones, Jeremy Black was sent to a speech studio in New York City by 20th Century Fox to learn how to speak with both an English and a German accent.[7]

The altercation between Lieberman and Mengele took about three or four days to film due to Olivier's ailing health at the time. Peck recalled that he and Olivier "were lying around on the floor" laughing at the absurdity of having to film such a fight scene at their advanced ages.[8]

Extended ending[edit]

A brief end segment with Bobby Wheelock in a darkroom was restored to some versions in later years. In this alternate ending, after Lieberman burns the list in his hospital bed, the scene transitions to Bobby in a darkroom developing photographs of Lieberman and Mengele, with a piercing glare coming from his steely-blue eyes as he focuses on Mengele's jaguar claw bracelet before fading to the end credits.

Filming locations[edit]

Despite its title, none of the film was shot in Brazil. Instead, the film was shot in Portugal, London, Vienna, the Kölnbrein Dam in Austria, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The scenes that were set in Massachusetts were shot in London.[7]


The film had 25 minutes cut when released in West Germany, theatrical as well as all subsequent TV, video and some DVD releases. In 1999, by Artisan Entertainment, and 2009 by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, the film was released uncut on DVD in the U.S. and uncut in Germany on its DVDs.

Lew Grade, who partly financed the film, was not happy with the end result, feeling that the ending was too gory. He says he protested but Franklin J. Schaffner, who had final cut rights, overruled him.[9]

In 2015, Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray.[10]


The Boys from Brazil received mixed to positive critical reviews. The film currently holds a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10.[11]

Variety wrote, "With two excellent antagonists in Gregory Peck and Lord Laurence Olivier, 'The Boys From Brazil' presents a gripping, suspenseful drama for nearly all of its two hours — then lets go at the end and falls into a heap."[12] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one-and-a-half out of four stars and called it "old-fashioned filmmaking at its worst," with "one of the phoniest stories you can imagine."[13] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It is penny-dreadful stuff, sumptuously executed but still as shallow as a Saturday serial. One exasperation of 'The Boys From Brazil' is that, even accepting the biological possibility of the premise, the script by Heywood Gould never confronts any of the interesting questions raised."[14] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "admirably crafted and surprisingly effective," and "a snazzy pop entertainment synthesis of accumulating suspense, detective work, pseudoscientific speculation and historical wish fulfillment."[15] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "If the film wants to be taken as a cautionary fable—another one!—about the ever-present dangers of Nazism, then it should leave viewers with a sense of menace that Mengele's "boys from Brazil" constitute. Instead, we get Lieberman's fuddy-duddy humanism and vague assurances that the boys are not really dangerous. And this is supposed to be a movie."[16] Jack Kroll of Newsweek wrote that "the thoughts aren't quite deep enough even for a thriller ... Heywood Gould's reasonably suspenseful screenplay blows it by suddenly turning Lieberman into a kindly old Jewish uncle instead of a man who is willing to face the tough paradoxes of good and evil."[17]

However, some scholars have used the film's idea of controlling an individual's genetics and upbringing to illustrate the difficulties of reconciling traditional views of free will with modern neuroscience.[18]

Award and honors[edit]

Academy Awards Nominations
Golden Globe Awards Nomination
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Award Nominations
  • Best Science Fiction Film
  • Best Actor – Laurence Olivier
  • Best Director – Franklin J. Schaffner
  • Best Music – Jerry Goldsmith
  • Best Supporting Actress – Uta Hagen
  • Best Writing – Heywood Gould
Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ "THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1978-12-10. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p258
  3. ^ "The Boys from Brazil, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  4. ^ Priggé, Steven (2004). Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews with Top Film Producers. McFarland. ISBN 36
  5. ^ "Gregory Peck: Elder statesman of the screen who stood for nobility, honour and decency". The Independent. 14 June 2003. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (12 October 1978). "JAMES MASON: "THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL"". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b MacKenzie, Chris (13 March 1978). "A Clone No More, Jeremy Black Is Back". The Hour. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  8. ^ Fishgall, Gary (2002). Gregory Peck: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 300
  9. ^ Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 248
  10. ^ “THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL” (Blu-ray Review)
  11. ^ The Boys from Brazil at Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  12. ^ "Film Reviews: The Boys From Brazil". Variety. September 27, 1978. 20.
  13. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 10, 1978). "'Boys' doesn't make the Grade". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 2.
  14. ^ Champlin, Charles (October 5, 1978). "Clone Caper in 'Brazil'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  15. ^ Arnold, Gary (October 5, 1978). "The Crafty Chill of 'Boys from Brazil'". The Washington Post. B1, B13.
  16. ^ Kael, Pauline (October 9, 1978). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 168.
  17. ^ Kroll, Jack (October 9, 1978). "Little Hitlers". Newsweek. p. 92.
  18. ^ Zeki, S.; Goodenough, O. R.; Greene, Joshua; Cohen, Jonathan (2004-11-29). "For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences. 359 (1451): 1775–1785. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1546. PMC 1693457. PMID 15590618.
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  20. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]