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Film: The Boys from Brazil
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner.
Performers: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Jeremy Black
Breed featured: Doberman Pinscher
Production information: ITC, 1978 (USA)

It’s totally weird to see Gregory Peck in such an evil role as Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele. In this version of science fiction, Mengele has fled to South America and set up an elaborate laboratory in Brazil where he has implemented a large-scale cloning program to repopulate the world with Adolf Hitlers. Each of the 94 clones he has created has been placed with adoptive families that emulate Hitler’s original family — specifically, each household consists of a tyrannical older father and a younger, doting mother. And since Hitler’s biological father suddenly died when he was a young teenager, assassins are sent to dispatch each of the cloned baby’s adoptive fathers to recreate the supposed psychological impact of this event on Hitler’s mental development.

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Improbable? Sure. Just a little. But the entire movie already goes against everything you know anyway (I mean, Atticus Finch as a Nazi?? C’mon!), and much of it is portrayed with such visual absurdity, you can’t help but be sucked into the mad, dystopic fantasy.

In the climactic scene, Dr. Mengele journeys to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in search of a Hitler clone who is being brought up in the home of a Doberman Pinscher breeder. The psychoanalytical emphasis of baby Hitler’s development is one thing, but the film doesn’t really address the question of social environment, as Hitler clones are scattered all around the world, from Sweden to Canada to England. I suppose it makes sense that one “puppy mill capital” of the US would be just as appropriate as any other test environment. Seems like it would take an entire culture of cruelty to produce a Hitler, not just a mother and dead father.

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[SPOILER and fake movie blood behind the cut]

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Once he discovers that Mengele killed his father, little Adolf sics the house dogs on Herr Doktor. And then he takes pictures of the carnage.

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So Mengele dies at the end, as actually happened about a year after the film’s release. But not exactly under the depicted circumstances.

Doberman lovers were apparently unhappy about the bad press that this film conferred unto their “vicious” dogs, and so it seems difficult to pin down the name of the kennel that supplied the movie with its four-legged extras. The film gets downright metacinematic when the dogs enter the scene. Their role not as inherently vicious beasts, but as highly trained actors in a plot not of their own making is highlighted by the verbal cues given: “Action!” to attack, “Cut!” to lay off, and “Print!” to finish off the victim.

I’d suggest that if you didn’t catch the significance of those references, which aren’t all that obscure, you’ve missed half the ridiculousness of the final scene. The entire nature vs. nurture debate is framed in such a way that defies belief; very little of this film is meant to be taken at face value, even as it skims some pretty horrific, violent historical realities.

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