The Boys from Brazil (film)

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The Boys from Brazil
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFranklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay byHeywood Gould
Based onThe Boys from Brazil
by Ira Levin
Produced byMartin Richards
Stanley O'Toole
Robert Fryer
StarringGregory Peck
Laurence Olivier
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byRobert Swink
Music byJerry Goldsmith
ITC Entertainment
Producer Circle
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 6, 1978 (1978-10-06)
Running time
125 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$12 million[3][4]
Box office$19,000,000[5]
$7,600,000 (rentals)

The Boys from Brazil is a 1978 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 a British-American co-production, based on the 1976 novel of the same title by Ira Levin. It was nominated for three Academy Awards.


Barry Kohler, a young amateur Nazi hunter, spies on a meeting of the fugitive Nazi organisation Kameraden in Paraguay. At this meeting Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz doctor, issues instructions for the assassinations of 94 civil servants in Northern Europe and North America, all of them low-ranking and aged around 65, on particular dates over the next two years. Kohler telephones Ezra Lieberman, a famous (but penniless and cynical) Nazi hunter living in Vienna, to inform him of his discovery. However, while still on the phone, he is surprised by the Kameraden and killed.

With the help of his sister Esther, British journalist Sidney Beynon and Jewish-American vigilante leader David Bennett, Lieberman begins investigating the deaths of civil servants fitting the profile who die suddenly over the next few months. He is struck by the fact that all of the dead men have sons aged 13 who look exactly alike, with pale skin, dark hair and blue eyes. He discovers that all of the boys were illegally adopted, and that some of the adoptions were facilitated by Kameraden member Frieda Maloney, who has since been jailed. Lieberman interviews Maloney, who tells him that the boys were provided by an intermediary in Brazil. She mentions that one of the adoptive fathers she dealt with, American Henry Wheelock, gave her a newborn puppy in exchange for his baby.

Seeking an explanation for the boys' identical appearance, Lieberman consults the biologist Dr Bruckner, who explains the principles of cloning. Lieberman deduces that the boys are clones of Adolf Hitler, all created from a single DNA sample by Mengele, who has also been seeking to ensure that their childhoods imitate that of the original Hitler by having them adopted by parents who resemble Hitler's own abusive father Alois (a civil servant in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and doting mother Klara, in the hope that their later lives will also follow the same course and that as adults they will establish new Nazi regimes in their respective countries. The murders of the fathers are part of this plan, designed to reflect the death of Alois when Hitler was 13. Based on this revelation, and the age of Maloney's dog, Lieberman realises that Henry Wheelock is due to be murdered in just four days' time.

Alarmed by the progress of Lieberman's investigation, and by Mengele's increasingly erratic behaviour (he almost beats one of his men to death for killing his target on the wrong date), the Kameraden leadership attempts to shut down the project, but Mengele escapes.

Lieberman travels to rural Pennsylvania to warn Henry Wheelock, but, by the time that he arrives, Wheelock has already been murdered by Mengele. The doctor also shoots Lieberman, badly wounding him, but is then attacked and cornered by the family's vicious Doberman Pinschers. When Wheelock's son Bobby arrives home from school, Mengele attempts to tell him about his real origins. He makes no attempt to deny killing Wheelock, telling Bobby that he must rise above his worthless adoptive family and embrace his destiny. This enrages the boy, who orders the dogs to kill Mengele. Lieberman recovers a list from Mengele's pocket detailing the identities of all 94 clones, but then collapses from blood loss.

As Lieberman recuperates in hospital, he is visited by Bennett, who asks him to hand over the list so that his vigilante group can eliminate the clones. Lieberman refuses and instead burns the list, declaring that they are innocent children who may yet grow up to be harmless. However, the final scene shows Bobby Wheelock gazing in fascination at photographs he took of Mengele's mauled corpse.




The book came out in 1976 and was a best seller.[6] In August 1976 it was announced the Producers Group (Robert Fryer, Martin Richards, Mary Lee Johnson and James Cresson) had optioned the film rights to the novel and would make the movie in association with Lew Grade.[7] Fryer had just made Voyage of the Damned for Grade.[8] According to producer Martin Richards, Robert Mulligan was originally the director's position.[9]

In May 1977, it was announced Laurence Olivier would star.[10] By this stage Franklin Schaffner was attached to direct.[11] Gregory Peck joined the film in July.[12] Olivier had recently been ill and was taking as many well-paying movie jobs as he could get in order to provide for his wife and children after his death.[13] Peck agreed to portray Mengele only because he wanted to work with Olivier.[14] Mason initially expressed interest in playing either Mengele or Lieberman.[15] Lilli Palmer also accepted a small role just to work with Olivier.[16] 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.[17]

"The emphasis of the film is not on Nazis," said producer Fryer. "It is really about cloning, a logical extension of existing facts. And it's about the hatred that two men have for each other."[18]


Although the bulk of the film is set in South America, Fryer says actually filming in that continent was "logistically impossible" so the decision was made to shoot it in Lisbon, Portugal.[18] Filming started in Portugal in October 1977, with additional filming in London, Vienna, the Kölnbrein Dam in Austria, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The scenes that were set in Massachusetts were shot in London.[17][19]

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.[20]

Extended ending[edit]

A brief end segment with Bobby Wheelock in a darkroom was restored to some versions in later years. In this alternative 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.


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 final result, feeling that the ending was too gory. He says he protested but Franklin J. Schaffner, who had final cut rights, overruled him.[21]

In 2015, Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray.[22]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 69% based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The site's consensus states: "Its story takes some dubious turns, but a high-caliber cast and a gripping pace fashion The Boys from Brazil into an effective thriller."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 40 out of 100 based on reviews from 7 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews.[24]

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."[25] 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."[26] 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."[27] 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."[28] 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."[29] 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."[30]

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.[31]


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:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Boys from Brazil at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1978-12-10. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  3. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p258
  4. ^ Portugal --the new locale for moviemaking: Cooperation praised Peck as a villain By Helen Gibson. The Christian Science Monitor 16 Dec 1977: 22.
  5. ^ "The Boys from Brazil, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  6. ^ Best Seller List: Fiction General Book Ends New York Times ]21 Mar 1976: 220.
  7. ^ book notes: Getty's version of fact, fable Lochte, Dick. Los Angeles Times 1 Aug 1976: j2.
  8. ^ Robert Fryer--Clout Plus Taste: ROBERT FRYER Glover, William. Los Angeles Times 22 Dec 1976: e10.
  9. ^ Priggé, Steven (2004). Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews with Top Film Producers. McFarland. ISBN 36
  10. ^ At the Movies Flatley, Guy. New York Times 6 May 1977: 54.
  11. ^ CRITIC AT LARGE: In Search of World Viewers Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times 27 May 1977: g
  12. ^ Mike's honeymoon: tea for 3 Daly, Maggie. Chicago Tribune 15 July 1977: b4.
  13. ^ Movies: Laurence Olivier 'Getting On With It' The Indestructible Laurence Olivier Lewin, David. Los Angeles Times ]26 Feb 1978: n33.
  14. ^ "Gregory Peck: Elder statesman of the screen who stood for nobility, honour and decency". The Independent. 14 June 2003. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (12 October 1978). "JAMES MASON: "THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL"". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Lilli Palmer Joins Cast Of 'Boys From Brazil'". The New York Times. 8 February 1978. p. C20.
  17. ^ a b MacKenzie, Chris (13 March 1978). "A Clone No More, Jeremy Black Is Back". The Hour. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  18. ^ a b FILM CLIPS: Once Around Producer Circle Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 19 Nov 1977: b9.
  19. ^ FILM CLIPS: Lew Grade's $97 Million Projects Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 15 Oct 1977: b9.
  20. ^ Fishgall, Gary (2002). Gregory Peck: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 300
  21. ^ Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 248
  22. ^ “THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL” (Blu-ray Review)
  23. ^ "The Boys from Brazil (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  24. ^ "The Boys from Brazil". Metacritic.
  25. ^ Variety Staff (September 27, 1978). "Film Reviews: The Boys From Brazil". Variety. p. 20.
  26. ^ Siskel, Gene (10 October 1978). "'Boys' doesn't make the Grade". Chicago Tribune. p. II-2 – via
  27. ^ Champlin, Charles (October 5, 1978). "Clone Caper in 'Brazil'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  28. ^ Arnold, Gary (5 October 1978). "The Crafty Chill of 'Boys From Brazil'". Washington Post. pp. B1, B13.
  29. ^ Kael, Pauline (October 9, 1978). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 168. Retrieved 2022-05-04.
  30. ^ Kroll, Jack (October 9, 1978). "Little Hitlers". Newsweek. p. 92.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20.
  33. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20.

External links[edit]