By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Mad doctor clones Hitler.
Based on the best-selling novel by Ira Levin the story details an elaborate plan devised by the elusive Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) who has been hiding out in the jungles of Paraguay and has a secret meeting with several Third Reich war criminals that is overheard by novice Nazi Hunter Barry Kohler (Steven Guttenberg) and relayed to Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier). The plan calls for these war criminals to go out and murder 94 65-year-old men who are living in various parts of the world as Mengele has saved a sample of Hitler’s DNA and impregnated 94 women with it at a Brazilian clinic. These Hitler clones have now grown to adolescence and need to be put in the exact same environment as the real Hitler had been in order to bring out the same personality traits, so it’s important that their fathers die at the same time as Hitler’s real father had. At first Lieberman cannot believe such an outrageous plot, but as the evidence mounts he realizes it is true and he may be unable to stop it.
The film has two great scenes which includes an eye popping death from a steep mountain bridge and a graphic moment where we see in close-up Mengele place the ovum with Hitler’s DNA into the women. Outside of these two moments the film is rather flat and cheesy with certain segments bordering on camp. The plot is intricate enough to keep you involved, but highly implausible and the characters take a long time to realize things that the viewer has already figured out long before.
It is fun seeing Peck playing a bad guy and this was his first villainous role since Duel in the Sun and although he does well in the part the character is so one dimensionally evil that it ultimately makes him boring. Olivier is not effective in the lead and comes off as frail and sickly with certain comical overtones given to the character that don’t work. The final confrontation between he and Peck in which the two roll around on the floor while grappling for a gun looks more pathetic than exciting and apparently the scene had to be reshoot several times because both actors kept breaking out into laughter over the absurdity of it. I did feel though that Guttenberg was perfectly cast as a wide-eyed schmuck that was in way over-his-head.
My biggest problem with the film though is the ending that turns out to be a big letdown. For one thing it takes place at a remote farmhouse, which seems too similar to a scene in Marathon Man, which came out just two years earlier, had a similar theme and also starred Olivier. It features nine Doberman pinchers with four of them that surround the farm’s owner (played by actor John Dehner) at all times. He uses them for protection as he is convinced someone is out to get him, which could’ve created quite an interesting scenario when Mengele travels to the home to kill him. However, the owner puts the dogs into another room the second Mengele tells him that they make him uncomfortable, which then allows Mengele to shoot the man without any problems, but why have the dogs for protection if you’re just going to put them away the minute some stranger doesn’t like them and if the character is so paranoid why even allow a stranger into your home without at least demanding some form of identification first?
End of Spoiler Alert!
The conclusion is unsatisfying as it leaves open a ton of unanswered questions. Not only is the plot full of loopholes, but it seems like only a springboard to a much more fascinating story, which is trying to hunt down all these Hitler clones that the film fails to realize.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: October 5, 1978
Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming
The ending may leave us all particularly unsatisfied. But for its message about how clones can potentially diverge as individuals from their originals for better or worse, I can find a specific satisfaction in that much.
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