Color, 1978, 124 mins.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Steve Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Rubinstein, Bruno Ganz / Written by Heywood Gould / Produced by Stanley O'Toole and Martin Richards / Music by Jerry Goldsmith / Cinematography by Henri DecaŽ

Format: DVD - Artisan (MSRP $24.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital Mono

A glossy, gory melange of popular box office hits of its day, The Boys from Brazil arrived onscreen just in time to follow the dual genres of Nazi horror (Marathon Man and all the Italian SS exploitation films) and supernatural kids (The Omen, Carrie). Cleanly adapted from Ira Levin's novel and aimed to traumatize the same audiences who thrilled to Rosemary's Baby, the film never comes close to hitting that plateau of excellence but still delivers the goods on its own modest level.

Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) is approached by an enthusiastic but not terribly swift young Nazi hunter, Barry (Steve Guttenberg). Ezra doubts the young man's story, which involves the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) cooking up some kind of genetic conspiracy down in the South American jungles. When Barry turns up dead, Ezra decides to investigate, mostly by visiting the homes of various people related to a string of murders linked to Mengele. Apparently the evil doctor has targeted 94 unlucky married men around for death... and oddly enough, all of the children look exactly the same, with jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes, just like a certain infamous German leader.

While it's easy to hate any movie that offered Steve Guttenberg his big break, The Boys from Brazil otherwise plays most of its cards right. Peck, enjoying the strangest period of his career, makes an imposing, hammy villain, while Olivier grounds the fantastic tale with his sympathetic, mutilayered portrayal of the aging investigator. Lilli Palmer, the European film star and TV hostess best known to shock fans as the headmistress in the excellent The House that Screamed, turns up in a relatively thankless role, while James Mason does the suave, evil henchman routine he also performed in Salem's Lot. Film buffs should also look for appearances by the underrated Bruno Ganz (Nosferatu, Wings of Desire), who provides one of the big screen's first accurate explanations of cloning, and Walter Gotell, best known as General Gogol in the James Bond films. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a surprisingly elegant, upbeat score, mostly consisting of waltzes and period music to evoke the spirit of a Germany trying to forget its past. Schaffner, best known for his mainstream drama and war films, does an efficient job of delving into the horror genre; while the opening 45 minutes can seem very disjointed and confusing during a first viewing, the film improves considerably as the true nature of the plot begins to unfold. Besides, any film deserves credit for making a gripping, shocking finale that simply involves two men sitting on sofas, surrounded by a pack of Dobermans.

Artisan's surprisingly lavish DVD duplicates the previous Pioneer laserdisc (but drops the isolated mono music track for some reason). The letterboxed transfer looks even cleaner and sharper, remarkably good for 1978 film. Anyone who grew up watching this (usually heavily cut) on Sunday afternoon television will be amazed at the pristine quality of the print, which makes one wonder why other Hollywood films of this vintage can't look the same. It isn't of the same demo quality as a new 1999 title, of course, but it's very pleasing all the same. The elegant, creepy animated menus lead the viewer through a long series of informative production notes (focusing particulary on Simon Wiesenthal, the likely influence on Olivier's character), concluding with two long trailers, both of which give away far too much of the story.

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