Boys from Brazil: Where the Nuts Are

DATELINE: Hitler Clones 

 Peck as Mengele!

Back in the day, Ira Levin was one hot writer. He was knocking out Broadway and movie hits with aplomb, and writing novels too. He was entertainment and controversy, wit and delight. Apart from Death Trap, he gave us Boys from Brazil.

One of his least favorite set-pieces was the novel and movie about Josef Mengele. How short-sighted they were back in those days. The main criticism centered on Atticus Finch, the hero of all things American, being done up as a pasty and hideous looking Mengele. Yes, sir, that’s Gregory Peck in the lead role, horrifying.

He is magnificent, but back then he was stung by severe criticism. His performance may be one side of over-the-top , but when you ae playing one of the evilest fiends in history, it’s hard to pull back.

The cast is utterly astounding

Playing the old Jewish Nazi hunter whose efforts have gone past relevance is Laurence Olivier. Even Peck’s Mengele has no respect for the old-timer who warns young and hunky Steve Guttenberg to get out of Paraguay before there is one less nice Jewish boy. In an early role, Guttenberg is a sacrifice to plot, replaced by his clone John Rubinstein.

James Mason, who always accounted for Nazis of varying stripes, plays a Prussian aristocratic Nazi. Every nuance of his performance, especially with Peck, is a subtext of delight. And, you have to stand back in sheer horror at a gala soiree of Nazis in Paraguay in the 1980s.

Throw in a passel of well-known character actors—from Anne Meara and Uta Hagen to John Dehner and Denholm Elliot—and you have a hoot of acting. What other movie features two 70ish stars in a dirty, knock-down fight to death at the climax?

Yes, Ira Levin knew how to entertain and write a film that was 40 years ahead of its time.

What brought the fiercest criticism was the crypto-science of the age: genetic research! The public could not accept Mengele’s theories that he could clone humans—and create a new Master Race leader. How silly they were back then! It would only take 30 years to make the story less crypto.

The boys back in Brazil were hardly your run of the mill Nazi party members: Mengele was after the big fish. He had enough DNA from Hitler to make a bunch of them from now until kingdom come!

Today, that is cutting edge. It’s quite a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Like Four Dames

DATELINE:  Great Actresses Reminisce.

Grand DamesGrandstanding with the Grand Dames

If you like good conversation with witty old ladies over tea and champagne, you may find Tea with the Dames quite your cuppa hot stuff if you enjoy BBC America.

The film is all too short but packed with anecdotes, and you are left with a sense you know these complex, often difficult actresses.

Dame Joan is now legally blind and unable to work, but the women go back sixty years in friendship. The other three are still quite active on screen.

They are literally four Dames:  English titles for accomplishments of women, an equivalent of knighthood. Dame Joan Plowright, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Eileen Atkins, are familiar to anyone who likes good acting. Now you can enjoy their bawdy and chippy chitchat.

The group is gathered at the home of Joan Plowright, which she shared with her husband Laurence Olivier. This is not some static sit-down interview: the women wander around the house, couple off on occasion, and the entire matter is interspersed with rare clips of their early performances.

They do tend to pile on Laurence Olivier, the god their generation of actors with funny stories. At one point when they are winding down, Dame Maggie notes to the director, “Did they tell you how old we are?”

What a thing of beauty and joy to behold for those who have a sense of history and grandeur. For these old ladies represent an age gone by. They were classically trained and paid their dues.

Toward the end we see clips of them receiving so many accolades and awards, including the honor of being made a Dame by Prince Charles or Queen Elizabeth.

Unusual and delightful.

Going for It on Fourth Down: Brady Won’t Take A Knee

DATELINE:  Whatever Happened to Baby Goodell?

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Mark your calendars, news junkies. The next clash of the Titans is scheduled for August 31 at 10am in Manhattan

You may wonder who will take Manhattan, or whether the wampum is worth the worry. The judge, apparently not totally out of patience, has ordered the two principal drama queens to bring their act to his court for another performance.

Not since Becket and Henry II went at it have we felt such tension. It’s like Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn deciding to switch roles night after night when they performed the historical drama back in the 1950s when they did Becket on Broadway. It made Burton and O’Toole’s movie seem like pabulum

Brady and Goodell are playing switchies. One day Goodell is the bad guy, and the next day Brady takes on the role

For sheer theatrical fireworks, you have to go back to All About Eve and Bette Davis playing Margo Channing. As bad as Margo might seem, there was little Eve, little Miss Evil, who was waiting in the wings for her big moment, hoping the star would break a leg, or at least tear an MCL

Alas, it is another Bette Davis film that most scares us as a parallel to the Goodell/Brady story. Yes, we mean Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Baby Jane Goodell is an aging faux athlete insanely jealous of his glamorous counterpart, Blanche Brady. So, they begin to torment each other with sadistic dirty tricks.