Of all the films being screened at the 2018 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, only one has Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck and 94 clones of Adolf Hitler.
If you’re a millennial, “The Boys From Brazil,” which was released way back in 1978, might be one of the best thrillers you’ve never heard of. The film centers on an insane plot by a fictionalized version of the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (Peck) to make clones of Hitler in Brazil and place them all around the world to help launch the Fourth Reich.
Hot on Mengele’s trail is aging Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Olivier), who is based on Simon Wiesenthal. The chilling confrontation between the two men at the end of the film delivers a terrific climax, and even though the film has its drawbacks, it still holds up 40 years later.
Olivier, fresh off his performance as a bad-guy Nazi doctor in 1976’s “Marathon Man,” plays Lieberman too stiffly. It’s the same for English actor James Mason as Mengele’s Nazi compatriot Eduard Seibert. Of all the characters in the film, only Peck as Mengele really lets loose and plays the cartoonish Nazi villain that the story demands.
My favorite moment of the film occurs after Mengele has just strangled a man half to death at a party. The man’s wife screams for a doctor, and Peck turns around and snarls, “I … am a doctor, idiot.”
“The Boys From Brazil” is at its best when it embraces the zaniness of the plot and you don’t think too hard about the details. If you can make it through the two-hour running time, the movie is definitely worth a watch if only for Peck’s over-the-top performance as Mengele.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Feb. 7, 7:50 p.m., Springs; Feb. 8, 3:20 p.m., Tara)