However, when a second phone call is abruptly cut off and the young man disappears, Lieberman's suspicions grow. Between the two phone calls and a package of photos from the assumed-dead man, the elderly Nazi hunter knows only this: Nazi "butcher" Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) is at the center of a mysterious plot that requires ninety-four men, aged 65, to be murdered on or near the same date. All of the would-be victims are "minor authority figures" such as postmasters, tax collectors, etc. They are all married to women significantly younger than them.
|Laurence Olivier as Lieberman and|
Lilli Palmer as his sister.
The Boys from Brazil was based on the bestselling 1976 novel by Ira Levin, the acclaimed novelist/playwright who wrote Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, and Deathtrap. Although there are broad thematic connections between The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil, the latter plays out as a straightforward mystery (i.e., what is Mengele up to?) before sharing its revelation en route to a suspenseful climax.
|Peck as Josef Mengele.|
The casting of Hollywood greats Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck delivers mixed results. As the Jewish Lieberman (based on the real-life Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal), Olivier creates an unlikely, effective hero: a sly, cranky, sometimes humorous old man steadfast in his pursuit of Nazi criminals despite dwindling resources and interest. It's a performance that earned Olivier an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
In contrast, Gregory Peck struggles with portraying a larger-than-life villain. For an actor who was often masterful playing understated characters, he goes over the top in Mengele's big scenes, shouting dialogue emphatically and waving his arms like a fire-and-brimstone evangelist. His extremist villain seems incapable of masterminding a large-scale plot to "fulfill the destiny of the Aryan race." Interestingly, the real-life Josef Mengele allegedly died in South America shortly after the film's release.
|James Mason co-stars as one of|
Mengele's Nazi colleagues.
Levin's ingenious premise, Olivier's performance, and Goldsmith's score are three good reasons to watch The Boys from Brazil. Admittedly, it's hard to watch a talented actor like Peck struggle and it's equally difficult to overlook some of the coincidences that drive the plot. But, in the end--just as in The Boys from Brazil--the good (reasons to watch) triumphs over the bad (reasons not to watch).