Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) wants to be a Nazi hunter like his hero Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) and to that end is doing quite a bit of digging in Paraguay, uncovering the Nazis who are in operation there and taking photographs of them to send to Lieberman. However, when he telephones the now elderly investigator, he interrupts him in the middle of a row with his landlord that he and his sister Esther (Lilli Palmer) are having, and has to wait until the difference of opinion is temporarily sorted out. Yet even when Lieberman does talk to him, he dismisses his information as something he knew already and warns him his life will be in danger if he spends more time aggravating the Nazis in South America. But what Kohler uncovers is big news concerning a new plot - led by the Angel of Death himself, Dr Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck)...
The real Dr Mengele died shortly after this film was released, but let's hope he managed to see it or at least read Ira Levin's page-turner of a novel, just to see the fate of his fictional self. Olivier was essentially playing famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, or was supposed to be, but with that accent it was difficult to tell. Nevertheless, he was able to essay the hero's role which was not bad going for an actor at his time of life. Levin's book was adapted by Heywood Gould, but was one of those cases where the main revelation was well known to most of those watching the film, which meant a lot of waiting around for the non-Nazi characters to catch up with what we have already cottoned onto.
Even if you didn't know what the evil plot was, it would be easy to guess from all this talk of genetics and experimentation. Mengele was a real life version of a nineteen-forties movie mad scientist, and as such far more sobering than anything fictional could have matched, but here he's less authentically disturbing and more cartoonish, a pulpy sci-fi movie version of what a Nazi doctor might be. Post-war Nazi villains in fantastical films had been seeping through into exploitation movies since the sixties, with even the odd example from before that and the epitome of such characters reached their most populist exposure in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but here was a film with respectable stars acting out what was essentially fodder for a trashy thriller.
Lieberman doesn't pay Kohler much attention until he receives another phone call from him, after the young man has bugged the meeting of Mengele's gang in a local hotel. Unfortunately his device has been discovered ("Find it! Find! It!") and he is tracked down so that Lieberman is able to hear him being murdered on the line. Luckily, an envelope containing photos of the villains has reached the veteran investigator's Vienna home, which puts him on the case - practically single-handed, as almost nobody wants to help except for a militant Jewish group he has little time for. And the Nazi plan? Mengele seems to have taken the notion of nature versus nurture to heart and combined the best of both worlds, or the worst in this case. They are bumping off the sixty-five year old fathers of fourteen-year-old boys across Europe and North America, boys who Lieberman notices look suspiciously similar... The Boys from Brazil was a Lew Grade production, so has that bloody freezing British look even when set in Paraguay, but if it thinks it's more important than it really is the film at least reminds us that fascism has never really left some quarters. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.