Sunday, November 30, 2014

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978) - Franklin J. Schaffner
& THE FORMULA (1980) - John G. Avildsen

The Formula centers on the hunt for a long buried Nazi recipe for synthetic fuel and one modern oil tycoon's (Marlon Brando) attempts to foil it. It might seriously compromise his profits, which in the late '70s gas-shortage plagued era were huge. Sustainable resources...apparently the Nazis accidentally did one or two good things while perpetrating tons of horrible crimes.

George C. Scott plays the L.A. cop put onto the formula's trail after his old partner's death. He's reliably gruff, doesn't stand for a lot of nonsense, and really, really wants to spend more time with his son. John Gielgud plays the old Nazi formula inventor. Comely Marthe Keller (also in Marathon Man) plays a German spy, seemingly on loan from a Bond movie, who trails Scott and later becomes his ill-fitting love interest. Marlon Brando plays the deeply corrupt (and deeply blas√©) oil tycoon Adam Steiffel, though most of the time it seems like he's channeling Dick Cheney years in advance. 

Brando's presence and the Avildsen directing credit is the reason I put this one on disc years ago. Granted, it's one of those later phoned-in Brando performances. He wears a hearing aid in the film that you just know someone off-set is using to read him his lines. His mouth seems stuffed with wet cotton (or maybe just craft services M&Ms). Still, Brando is Brando and always interesting to watch. Though the investigation is slow-footed and the action rather plodding, the corporate headquarters showdown finale between Scott and Brando is a treat if just to see these two acting titans go head to head. As far as Avildsen films go (Rocky, The Karate Kid, Save the Tiger, Joe), this is not one for the highlight reel. 

The Boys from about a surprise treat! An absolutely over-the-top Nazi conspiracy theory gem! And talk about great actors going head to head! Elder statesmen Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck actually throw down on the carpet and grapple WWE-style at one point (see above). Plus, there's a pre-Police Academy Steve Guttenberg running around Paraguay with a ham radio. What more could you ask for? Hulk Hogan as Himmler?

Olivier plays Lieberman, an old school Jewish Nazi hunter on the lookout for leftover Reich members. With Guttenberg's assist, he stumbles onto Josef Mengele (a hammy, wonderful Peck) now hiding out in Brazil and in the early stages of enacting a plot to unleash little Hitler clones all over the world. Mengele's plan is a tad convoluted; it involves splicing der Fuhrer's old DNA into laboratory baby boys and replicating Uncle Adolf's childhood upbringing in each one. This requires a doting mother and civil servant father who must later die, in this case in ritual assassinations all over the globe ala The Day of the Jackal.

Never mind all that. Schaffner and his fantastic cast really make this patently absurd material sing. Have you ever fantasized what it would be like to see the Nazi's mad doctor Mengele mangled by angry Dobermans? Now you don't have to. Schaffner and writer Ira Levin enact this alternative history wish fulfillment for you. Have you ever wondered what Hitler reincarnated in a child's body might look like? I'll give you a hint: a black cowlick, unnaturally piercing blue eyes, a generally bad attitude. He also tends to wear a lot of flannel and has a certain Damien in The Omen vibe. In case you want to keep an eye out for this 'tween Hitler in the street, he kinda looks like this...

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