Critics’ praise and an Oscar nomination were Laurence Olivier’s compensation for The Boys from Brazil, but the real reason to see the movie is Gregory Peck in a very trashy performance as Dr. Josef Mengele. True that Peck was trying for a more serious effect, for a “prestige” workout like the kind (in the opposite direction, of course) he tried for MacArthur. However, the Ira Levin material is already such sickie camp—Mengele managing to clone 94 little Hitlers, who are about to reach the age of terror—that Peck in all his preparatory regalia got trapped, and maybe it’s for the best. There’s no way other than to chortle it off, to just sit back and enjoy a great Hollywood liberal doing a Nazi turn. Olivier, looking so frail that his face seems to retrograde into a hospice-like second childhood right before our eyes, is a lot less impressive than his reviews. The movie’s a botch—so misdirected by Franklin Schaffner that the scenes of experimental horror look like after-thoughts: Mengele’s tropical lab and its mutant occupants are staged without the chill-thrill of possibility. (Some of the experimented-on walk around as if they’re extras for a George Romero movie.) The least effective scares are the little Hitlers; the actor playing the three we get is Razzie caliber. (Well, so is the rest of the cast.) This movie is an illustration of what happens when a director, fearing that going too far will offend sensibilities, goes nowhere. With computer technology having reached an art form, imagine what James Cameron in a remake could do with Mengele’s atrocities.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2007 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.