CC: The Boys From Brazil (1976) & (1978)

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Friday, October 3, 2014

CC: The Boys From Brazil (1976) & (1978)

We have a controversial topic for tonight, and a history lesson for the naïve to fully understand why this is so controversial.  We also have the return of one of the most talked about authors on MMTV, Ira Levin because no one writes a scary story like Ira Levin.


What's the true story on South American Nazis?  After the war Argentina and Paraguay were run for years by nationalist strongmen, Juan Peron1 and Alfredo Stroessner2 respectively, who liked to strut around in military regalia and brutalize dissidents.  Argentina had remained officially neutral until early 1945, when economic pressure forced it to throw in with the Allies, but until that point was in intimate contact with Hitler's regime and the fascist Franco government in Spain.  Postwar Brazil was still fascist-friendly, a legacy of deposed dictator Getulio Vargas3.  Surely it's no surprise that the leaders of these countries nurtured fraternal feelings for fleeing Nazis.  I might also point out that not all fugitives from the Third Reich ended up in South America -- quite a few are said to have headed for Spain or the Middle East, and the U.S. imported a crowd of Nazi rocket scientists during Operation Paperclip4.  That said, the true story of how war criminals like Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele wound up in the land of the gauchos has never been fully told, and even now it's difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Leading candidates for chief enabler of the great escape include:

  • Odessa. Part of the popular consciousness ever since Frederick Forsyth's best-selling 1972 novel The Odessa File, this secret group (the name is an acronym for Organization der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen,"Organization of Former SS Members") supposedly used stashed war booty and connections in high places to spirit Nazi big shots out of reach of the Allies.
  • The Catholic church. The claim that members of the Catholic hierarchy were instrumental in obtaining documents, cash, and safe passage for many escaping Nazis is only barely scandalous these days. The benign view is that individual clerics acted out of humanitarian concern, believing they were aiding refugees from postwar communist persecution, and were unaware of their charges' sordid pasts.
  • All of the above plus Peron. Argentine journalist Uki Goñi, in The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina (2002), offers what amounts to a synthesis of earlier theories. The "real Odessa," he says, consisted of about a dozen energetic ex-Nazis and Nazi collaborators from several nations, including a few wanted war criminals, working in concert with the Peron regime and sympathetic Catholic officials in both Europe and Argentina.

It's a lot to swallow, no question, and notwithstanding his 591 footnotes Goñi concedes that many key Argentine records that would've corroborated his story have been destroyed.  Still, he avoids the overheated claims of other writers, and the plain fact is that all those Nazis didn't wind up in South America by coincidence--they were going where they were welcome.  As for the details?  Given the current worldwide consensus that Nazis represent the ultimate human evil (and the resulting disinclination of officials in Argentina and elsewhere to come clean), Goñi's book may be as close as we'll get to the truth.  Needless to state but no one’s hand were completely clean after WW2.


The Boys from Brazil is a 1976 thriller novel by Ira Levin.  It was subsequently made into a movie of the same title that was released in 1978.

Yakov Liebermann is a Nazi hunter (loosely based on Simon Wiesenthal5): he runs a center in Vienna that documents crimes against humanity, perpetrated during the Holocaust.  The waning interest of the Western nations in tracking down Nazi criminals, and the failure of the bank where he kept his center's funds, has forced him to move the center to his own lodgings.

Then, in September 1974, Liebermann receives a phone call from a young man in Brazil who claims he has just finished eavesdropping on the so-called "Angel of Death," Dr. Josef Mengele, the concentration camp medical doctor who performed horrific experiments on camp victims during World War II.  According to the young man, Mengele is activating the Kameradenwerk (in this case, executing a provision of the ODESSA plan)  for a strange assignment: he is sending out six Nazis (former SS Officers) to kill 94 men, who share a few common traits.  All men are civil servants, and all of them have to be killed on or about particular dates, spread over several years.  All will be 65 years old at the time of their killing.  Before the young man can finish the conversation, he is killed.

Liebermann hesitates about what to do, and wonders if the call was a prank.  But he investigates and discovers that the killings the young man spoke of are taking place.  As he tries to determine why the seemingly unimportant men are being killed, he discovers by coincidence that the children of two of the men are identical.  It eventually transpires each of the 94 targets has a son aged 13, a genetic clone of Adolf Hitler planted by Mengele.  Mengele wishes to create a new Führer for the Nazi movement, and is trying to ensure that the lives of the clones follow a similar path to Hitler's.  Each civil servant father is married to a woman about 23 years younger, and their killing is an attempt to mimic the death of Hitler's own father.

Liebermann manages to work out who one of the intended targets is, and travels to warn him that his life may be in danger.  However, Mengele reaches the man first, kills him, and then encounters Liebermann.  Liebermann is shot but Mengele is killed by the targeted man's collection of dangerous dogs.  The plan is halted, but 18 Hitler clones have already lost their fathers.  Liebermann destroys the list of the 94 clones so that a younger Nazi hunter (perhaps affiliated with Mossad6) will not be able to kill what may still turn out to be harmless boys.  However, the book ends with one of the Hitler clones developing what may be delusions of grandeur.


 

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

  • Genre: Drama – Sci-Fi – Thriller
  • Directed: Franklin J. Schaffner
  • Produced:
    • Robert Fryer 
    • Stanley O'Toole 
    • Martin Richards
  • Written:
    • Ira Levin (Novel) 
    • Heywood Gould (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Steve Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Jeremy Black
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith
  • Cinematography: Henri Decaë
  • Editing: Robert Swink
  • Studio:
    • Lew Grade  
    • Producers Circle  
    • Incorporated Television Company
  • Distributed:
    • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation  
    • National Broadcasting Company  
    • CBS / Fox Video  
    • Maple Pictures   
    • Carlton  
    • ITV DVD  
    • Artisan Entertainment  
    • Fox Video  
    • Image Entertainment  
    • Magnetic Video  
    • RCA
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 5 October 1978 (USA)
  • Running Time: 125 minutes
  • Country:
    • United Kingdom 
    • USA
  • Language: English

Young, well-intentioned Barry Kohler stumbles upon a secret organization of Third Reich war criminals holding clandestine meetings in Paraguay and finds that Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz doctor, is with them.  He phones Ezra Lieberman, an aging Nazi hunter living in Vienna, Austria, with this information.  A highly skeptical Lieberman tries to brush Kohler's claims aside, telling him that it is already well known that Mengele is living in Paraguay.

Having learned when and where the next meeting to include Mengele is scheduled to occur, Kohler records part of it using a hidden microphone, but he is discovered and killed while making another phone call to Lieberman.  Before the phone is hung up with Lieberman on the other end, he hears the recorded voice of Mengele ordering a group of ex-Nazis to kill 94 men in different countries, including Austria, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Great Britain and the United States.

Although frail, Lieberman follows Kohler's leads and begins travelling throughout Europe and North America to investigate the suspicious deaths of a number of aging civil servants.  He meets several of their widows and is amazed to find an uncanny resemblance in their adopted, black-haired, blue-eyed sons.  It is also made clear that, at the time of their deaths, all the civil servants were aged around 65 and had cold, domineering and abusive attitudes towards their adopted sons, while their wives were around 42 and doted on the sons.

Lieberman gains insight from Frieda Maloney, an incarcerated former Nazi guard who worked with the adoption agency, before realizing during a meeting with Professor Bruckner, an expert on cloning, the terrible truth behind the Nazi plan: Mengele, in the 1960s, had secluded several surrogate mothers in a Brazilian clinic and fertilized them with ova each carrying a sample of Hitler's DNA preserved since World War II.  Ninety four perfect clones of Hitler had then been born and sent to different parts of the world for adoption.

As Lieberman uncovers more of the plot, Mengele's superiors become more unnerved.  After Mengele happens to meet (and then attacks) one of the agents he believes is in Europe implementing his scheme, Mengele's principal contact, Eduard Seibert, informs him that the scheme has been aborted before Lieberman can expose it to the authorities.  Mengele storms out, pledging that the operation will continue.

Seibert and his men destroy Mengele's jungle estate after killing his guards and servants.  Mengele himself, however, has already left, intent on trying to continue his plan.  He travels to rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where one of the Hitler clones, Bobby Wheelock, lives on a farm with his parents.  There he murders the boy's father, a Doberman dog breeder, and waits for Lieberman, who is on his way to the farm to warn Mr. Wheelock of Mengele's intention to kill him.

The instant Lieberman arrives and sees Mengele, he attacks the doctor in a fury.  But Mengele soon gains the upper hand and holds him at gunpoint.  He taunts Lieberman by explaining his plan to return Hitler to the world.  Then, with one desperate lunge, Lieberman opens the closet where the Dobermans are held and turns them loose.  The dogs corner Mengele and begin to attack him.  At that point, Bobby arrives home from school.  It is Mengele's first look at one of his clones.  Bobby calls off the dogs and tries to find out what has happened.

Bobby can tell from the carnage that something is wrong. The injured Mengele tells Bobby how much he admires him, and explains that he is cloned from Hitler.  But Bobby doubts his story and is also suspicious because the dogs are trained to attack anyone who threatens his family.  Lieberman tells Bobby that Mengele has killed his father and urges him to notify the police.  Bobby checks the house and eventually finds his dead father in the basement.  He rushes back upstairs and sets the vicious dogs on Mengele once again, relishing his bloody death.  Bobby then proceeds to help Lieberman, whom Mengele has shot and wounded, but only after Lieberman promises not to tell the police about the incident.

Later, while recovering from his wounds, Lieberman is encouraged by an American Nazi-hunter, David Bennett to expose Mengele's scheme to the world.  He asks Lieberman to turn over the list (which Lieberman had taken from Mengele's body while Bobby was calling for an ambulance) identifying the names and whereabouts of the other boys from around the world, so that they can be systematically killed before growing up to become bloody tyrants.  Lieberman objects on the grounds that they are mere children.  He burns the list before anyone can read it.


I realize that normally we talk about terrible films that are fun to watch but if you aren’t familiar with this movie you really should see it, it is amazing.

 

Notes:

1.  Juan Domingo Perón (October 8, 1895 – July 1, 1974) was an Argentine military officer and politician.  After serving in several government positions, including those of Minister of Labor and Vice President of the Republic, he was three times elected as President of Argentina, serving from June 1946 to September 1955, when he was overthrown by a coup d'état, from October 1973 to July 1974.

2.  Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda (November 3, 1912 – August 16, 2006) was a Paraguayan military officer who served as President of Paraguay from 1954 to 1989.  He ascended to the position after leading an army coup in 1954.  His 35-year-long rule, marked by an uninterrupted period of repression in his country, was the longest unbroken rule by one individual in the history of South America.  His rule is ranked 14th-longest among other non-royal national leaders since 1870, and made him one of the world's longest-serving non-Communist heads of state.

3.  Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (19 April 1882 – 24 August 1954) served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954.  Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the longest of any President, and second in Brazilian history only to Emperor Pedro II among heads of government.  He favored nationalism, industrialization, centralization, social welfare and populism – for the latter, Vargas won the nickname "O Pai dos Pobres" (Portuguese for "The Father of the Poor").  He was a proponent of workers' rights as well as a staunch anti-communist.

4.  Operation Paperclip was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) program in which over 1,500 German scientists, technicians, and engineers from Nazi Germany and other foreign countries were brought to the United States for employment in the aftermath of World War II.  It was conducted by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), and in the context of the burgeoning Cold War.  One purpose of Operation Paperclip was to deny German scientific expertise and knowledge to the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, as well as inhibiting post-war Germany from redeveloping its military research capabilities.

5.  Simon Wiesenthal, KBE (31 December 1908 – 20 September 2005) was an Austrian writer and Nazi hunter.  He was an Austrian Jewish Holocaust survivor who became famous after World War II for his work as a Nazi hunter.  He studied architecture and was living in Lwów at the outbreak of World War II.  After being forced to work as a slave laborer in Nazi concentration camps such as Janowska, Plaszow, and Mauthausen during the war, Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazi war criminals so that they could be brought to trial.  In 1947 he co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, where he and others gathered information for future war crime trials and aided refugees in their search for lost relatives.  He opened the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna in 1961 and continued to try to locate missing Nazi war criminals.  He played a small role in locating Adolf Eichmann, who was captured in Buenos Aires in 1960, and worked closely with the Austrian justice ministry to prepare a dossier on Franz Stangl, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1971.

6.  The Mossad is the national intelligence agency of Israel.  It is one of the main entities in the Israeli Intelligence Community, along with Aman (military intelligence) and Shin Bet (internal security).  The Mossad is responsible for intelligence collection, covert operations, and counterterrorism, as well as bringing Jews to Israel from countries where official Aliyah (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel) agencies are forbidden, and protecting Jewish communities.  Its director reports directly to the Prime Minister.

 

Sources:

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