Year Released: 1978
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason
(R, 125 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense
"History has shown how one man with a dream can turn the world into a nightmare.” Trailer of Boys from Brazil
What if the Nazis' deluded dreams did not die at the end of World War II? But instead merely staged a tactical retreat to South America? Discover the ominous implications in this classic 1978 thriller.
This may not be everyone’s idea of a thriller. Most of the cast is over 60, and one fight scene had to be filmed over 4 days to provide a respite for one of its frail stars. No hot chicks, unless you yearn for matronly Nazi prison guards, and certainly no squealing car chases.
But if you loved Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, who manicured his postage-sized yard with his push lawnmower, a kind of military patrol against any rebel blade poking up its head. And defended that patch with a rifle when needed...
If you adored Michael Caine as the wheezy 80-year-old reluctant vigilante cleaning up the streets in London, his frail body, besieged by age and emphysema, as well as a deep and righteous fury...
Then you are going to love an aged Sir Laurence Olivier playing a relentless Nazi hunter tracking down Gregory Peck as perhaps the most notorious Nazi who ever lived – Dr. Josef Mengele – “a sadist with an MD and a PHD:”
The chief doctor of Auschwitz, who killed 2.5 million people, experimented with children - Jewish and non-Jewish - using twins mostly, injecting blue dyes into their eyes to make them acceptable Aryans... amputating limbs and organs from thousands without anesthetics.
It’s quite a turn for Peck, whose character, Atticus Finch, the upright lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, was voted “the greatest hero in American film.” Reportedly, Peck agreed to play Mengele only because he wanted to work with Olivier, an acting icon.
Perhaps he was in awe of the British legend a bit too much, though, since Peck creates a rather one dimensional portrayal of Mengele as a kind of mad scientist incarnate.
Olivier, however, imbues Ezra Lieberman, based on the real life Simon Wiesenthal, with a cranky charm. Donations to his cause are down, and he and his sister live in a cramped apartment whose roof leaks. He has to cajole his landlord to keep him despite being behind on the rent, and when he goes searching for clues to Mengele’s latest sinister plot, he rides the bus.
A third fine actor enlightens the production. James Mason plays Eduard Seibert, a high-ranking Nazi who tries to rein in the good doctor’s plans. He does it with smooth words and a smile, but behind them there is a threat, and it is carried out with ruthless efficiency.
The plot unpeels like layers of an onion. First a message from Paraguay about a secret meeting involving Mengele, a message first ignored by Lieberman who is not too happy about his middle of the night phone call from the youthful enthusiast on the other end of the line.
The next call is more ominous, a secretly taped recording alluding to “94 men who must die,” followed by a scurry of feet and then the line going dead.
The only clues Lieberman has are that the men are all civil servants around age 65. With the help of his devoted sister Esther (a still lovely Lili Palmer) he begins to track them down, visiting the widows.
What he uncovers is a plot so cold-blooded and diabolical, it beggars belief. Can a tired old man riding the bus stop history from repeating itself?
Here the slow unraveling is the catch, a welcome change from the breakneck speed and plot holes in the roadway we usually careen along haphazardly in today’s thrillers.
Despite its title, none of the film was shot in Brazil. Instead, shooting locations were in Portugal, London, Vienna, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
But let’s not let that keep us from sampling our variation of Brazil’s legendary Caipirinha Cocktail.
However, please keep your toast limited the Brazilian Bom Apetite. No Heil Hitlers allowed!
Caipirinha de Uva
Cachaca ("ka-sha-sa"), the national spirit of Brazil, resembles rum but is made from the first pressing of fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses. As such, cachaca has a rustic earthiness that makes for a wonderful base in many modern cocktails, the most famous of which is the Caipirinha.
The Caipirinha ("kye-pur-een-yah") is Brazil's legendary cocktail and it's enjoyed all over the country. Uva is Portuguese for grape. Making this variation on the classic drink is even easier than saying the name: It's a simple mix of crushed lime, sugar, cachaca, ice, and semisweet wine (I prefer Gewürztraminer or Riesling), which adds a lovely grapey-ness and should appeal to wine lovers.
4 lime wedges (from 1/2 lime)
7 green grapes
2 teaspoons raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cachaca
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) semisweet white wine such as Gewürztraminer
8 to 10 ice cubes
1 (4-to 5-inch) wooden skewer
In cocktail shaker, stir together lime wedges, 5 grapes, and sugar. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press until fruit is crushed and juices are released. Add cachaca, wine, and ice, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Pour into old-fashioned glass. Thread remaining 2 grapes onto skewer, place in drink, and serve immediately.