The Boys From Brazil (USA 1978)

Director: Franklin J Schaffner

Starring: Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Lili Palmer, James Mason, Steve Guttenberg

Screenplay: Heywood Gould

Novel: Ira Levin

Music; Jerry Goldsmith

Bit Part: Prunella Scales

FACT: 25 minutes were excised from the German version of the film

Other: Boys from Brazil is the final track on Simple Minds’ splendid Sons and Fascination album.

In one line: cloning is used to replicate the dead


Barry Kohler, (Guttenberg) a young American volunteer in the Jewish Defence League, stumbles upon a mysterious plot to kill 94 sixty-five year old men whilst investigating the movements of a group of World War2 Nazis hiding out in Paraguay.

He alerts veteran Jewish Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Olivier) but is murdered by a hit squad before he can send all of the information.

Lieberman sets out to uncover the mystery of this baffling plot and discovers that it is repulsive war criminal Dr Joseph Mengele who is behind an audacious experiment in human cloning....


In many or indeed most ways, The Boys from Brazil is a terrible film. Olivier’s Ezra Liebermann (a thinly veiled Simon Wiesenthal) is one of the worst pieces of ham acting you are likely to see mentioned on the SV website. Obviously, Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for the role.

Gregory Peck (who replaced George C. Scott) gives an uncomfortable, but memorable performance as Mengele. James Mason’s German accent is straight from ‘Allo! 'Allo! or The Russ Abbott Madhouse, and newcomer Jeremy Black’s ability to adopt three accents proves two too many for him.

When Black’s ‘English clone’ has to deliver the line “Don’t you understand English, you arse?” I had to hide behind the settee such was my shame at the young man’s poverty row impression of ventriloquist’s dummy Lord Charles.

There are a number of decent set pieces in the film and Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘waltz’ score is tremendous (if somewhat inappropriate given the subject matter), but you’ll probably feel grubby by the end of its two hours’ running time. 

So why is it on the list? Well, I’d say that everyone who has seen it will never forget it (for simultaneous good and bad reasons, no doubt.) There are some undeniably powerful scenes, including an angry interview between Lieberman and imprisoned Nazi thug/cloned baby fixer Frieda Maloney (Olivier’s one good sequence in the film); the various set-ups for the murders of the 65 year old have a Theatre of Blood quality, and there some jaw-droppingly bad performances for fans of (unintended) pulp/trash movies - all of these things are memorable for a variety of reasons. 

But these pale into insignificance compared to the film’s central conceit – and this is a bit of a cheat because it is novelist Ira Levin’s clever conceit which remains unchanged for the film version. Cloning was known at this time, but Levin’s idea of extrapolating what could be achieved by 1970s science into a plausible science fiction/horror story was/is a particularly fascinating flight of imagination and story-telling. (Especially for a teenage sci-fi fan). 

TBFB is an enjoyable piece of pulp fiction, but it’s not going to trouble the BFI/AFI top 100 (1000) fims any time soon. 

And keep an eye out for Steve Guttenberg’s supposedly dead Barry Kohler blinking when he thinks the camera is no longer on him.

Not the best piece of disciplined acting or editing I’ve seen in a film…


"Right: hands up who likes me?"

[Silence. No hands up.]

"I find that rather difficult to believe! "