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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walk on Water: Mossad at Work

DATELINE: Multi-Lingual Approach to Nazis

walk on water

We must admit that intelligent gay movies are far and few between, but this one is a treasure. Put aside young coming out stories; this one is about a dangerous Mossad agent/killer who must track down a Nazi war criminal in his dotage and kill him.

Walk on Water is another Israeli film that finds drama and suspense in characters on the periphery of the gay world. You don’t normally find such cerebral films in the American gay movie canon.

Along the way, the deadly intelligence agent must deal with the gay grandson of the Nazi. The film moves in two parts between a visit to Israel by the German heir to the Nazi mantle, and a trip to Berlin by the agent to trap his prey.

The ultimate issue is whether people are responsible for the sins of their fathers (or grandfathers). The firebrand Israeli agent begins to have doubts, and the young German descendant is equally appalled by the skinheads around him.

Throw the gay angle into the mix, and you have another element of the crypto-Nazi doctrine and the Zionist advocate that is exposed from both sides: after all, the concentration camps killed both Jews and homosexuals.

The Israeli agent is working under the stress and post-trauma of having a license to kill—and then finding his wife a victim of suicide over his lifestyle. He finds himself in an emotional roller-coaster with a German brother and sister.

If you want a movie with an intelligent premise, this certainly is up there—above and beyond anything that might be called a gay movie, with a major character in a heroic role. This is a gay-theme wrapped in an enigma within a mystery.

 

 

Remember: Unforgettable Movie!

DATELINE: Kosher Death Wish

Remember Two Old Pros!

Atom Egoyan’s film Remember is a geriatric thriller. That’s no put-down. We like films with a twist, and this one is so twisted that it is frightful. This is not your grandfather’s Boys from Brazil.

Christopher Plummer plays Zev, a man suffering from dementia in a nursing home with another man named Max who is played by Martin Landau.

As if the ironies were not enough, Landau (once Rollie Hand on the old Mission Impossible) gives Plummer an impossible mission.  He is to hunt down and assassinate an escaped Nazi war criminal.  What can a 90-year old with memory problems do in his spare time? Two survivors of Auschwitz find their fates in a nursing home.

You might say this is balderdash, but the old man is hell-bent on his mission of vengeance, with his memories programmed by a retired Simon Weisenthal Nazi hunter.

There is no stopping Plummer’s man on a mission. He must bring justice to a Nazi guard who killed thousands, and there are a handful of suspects.

We are in awe that Landau and Plummer have their great roles in advanced old age.

Plummer’s character must have constant reminders of who he is and what his goal is: through written instructions from Max and coaching phone calls. Otherwise, he will simply forget who he is and what he must accomplish.

Some unkind critics dismissed the shocking ending as Death Wish put into concentration camp form. It is compelling and suspenseful, a walk into the abyss of Alzheimer’s Disease and decrepitude.

Clues abound as to what is truly happening to the old man named Zev. We found ours when he sat down at the piano and played a Hollywood favorite in dozens of movies, the Death Theme from Wagner’s grand Tristan & Iseulte.

The final minutes of the film will stun you.