Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Boys from Brazil

Go To

A Simon Wiesenthal Center operative finds something big. All around the world.

A 1976 novel by Ira Levin, it was adapted into a 1978 film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, starring Laurence Olivier (in his last Academy Award-nominated role) as Nazi hunter Ezra Liebermann and Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengele. The score, which was also nominated for an Oscar, was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

In Brazil in 1974, a young busboy finds himself serving a table full of jovial, elderly German ex-pats in the midst of a celebratory dinner party. The busboy overhears a sinister conversation: these men are former Nazis who are planning the assassination of 94 civil servants around the world, motives unknown. But the busboy is no busboy. He manages a single phone call to Ezra Liebermann, who runs a secret network in Vienna dedicated to tracking down fugitive Nazis and bringing them to justice. Before their conversation can end, the busboy is murdered.


Based only on this chancy information, Liebermann rallies his best spies to track down clues, both in hopes of saving the 94 victims and to discover the reason why they were targets. Some of them have already been killed. More are dying every day. But another, even stranger piece of the puzzle soon arises: thirteen years ago, every targeted family adopted an infant from Brazil, innocent children created by the Angel of Death himself, Josef Mengele, as part of a twisted plan to bring about a new Reich with a new leader.


Tropes featured in this work include:

  • Adaptational Name Change: From Yakov Liebermann in the novel to Ezra Liebermann in the film.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Villainous example, as Mengele's superiors torch his base and kill his men.
  • And Starring: "And Introducing Jeremy Black." Black never had another screen credit, though he did do some stage work.
  • Angry Guard Dog: The Wheelock family has about a dozen well-trained dobermans.
  • Apocalypse Hitler: Mengele's theory is that if it's possible to perfectly replicate Hitler, from genetic composition down to the kind of events that moulded his life, everything else will come eventually.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: Paraguay and Brazil, in this case.
  • Car Fu: In the film, one of the assassins uses his car as a weapon to murder a German postman.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mengele tells one of the Hitler clones his true origins. It fails, with the clone initially dismissing Mengele as 'weird' and then expressing horror after he learns that Mengele killed his father.
  • Children Are Innocent: In spite of the fact that most of the boys from Brazil are clearly budding sociopaths, Liebermann is against their assassination, since they haven't committed any crimes.
  • Cloning Gambit: Mengele's plot is to create new, original Hitlers by cloning him and recreating his upbringing, to the extent of arranging for the boys to be adopted by parents who had a similar background to Hitler's own and planning to discreetly assassinate their fathers at the same time as Hitler's father died.
  • Composite Character: Seibert in the film is the leader of Mengele's superiors and his main antagonist; in the book he is Mengele's main advocate, while an unseen man named Rudell is in charge and responsible for cancelling the project.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Nazis' back up plans have back up plans.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: The Paraguayans in Mengele's compound and all of the cloned Hitlers.
  • Dated History: The movie puts Mengele in Paraguay (though the mothers of the kids are Brazilian), his speculated real life location. He actually did live there for some time, but in the 1970s he was really in Brazil (where he died in 1979, meaning that besides the deteriorated health he could have seen the movie).
  • Dead Star Walking: A retroactive example happens with Steve Guttenberg in the film.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Barry Kohler in the movie. The first 30 minutes focus on his investigation into Mengele’s presence in Paraguay, until he is murdered by Mengele's goons.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The titular "boys" from Brazil initially seems to refer to the enclave of Nazis that secretly live there, as in "the old-boys network." It isn't until about halfway through the book that we find out the "boys" are the cloned children. Levin's notorious for these little hidden-in-plain-sight spoilers: the Nazis can't be the "boys from Brazil" since they're in Brazil; they're from Germany or Austria (?)!
  • The End... Or Is It?: There are still 95 clones of Hitler all over, ticking timebombs. And it's heavily implied that Mengele's scheme worked, as one of the Hitler clones is seen drawing a stadium full of people cheering a "great man".
    He could hear the people cheering, roaring; a beautiful growing love-thunder that built and built, and then pounded, pounded, pounded, pounded.
    Sort of like in those old Hitler movies.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Or Daddies, in one of the Hitler clones' case, since he gets Mengele devoured by his dogs after finding out he killed his father.
  • Expendable Clone: Averted. While Mengele's superiors want the project scrapped, Mengele's very aware that his clones are aging in real time, and that each is irreplaceable - especially since re-creating the original through upbringing is largely a manner of luck.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The dogs don't like Mengele.
  • Failure Hero: At the end, the heroes' efforts amount to nothing as the villains are disposed by their own schemes.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Mengele suddenly finds himself wishing that his cloned Hitlers weren't quite so sadistic.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Kohler’s death in the movie.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Mengele finds himself at the mercy of one of his cloned Hitlers. Oops.
    • Earlier in the movie, one of the Nazi assassins expresses doubts over his mission to an old comrade, who advises him to go ahead. Turns out he's the man meant to be killed.
  • Hunting "Accident": One of the parents' murders is disguised as such.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Josef Mengele goes from, essentially, a psychotic State-sponsored Serial Killer who was, in reality, a totally incompetent scientist; to the Diabolical Mastermind behind both a cloning project at least a century ahead of its time, and an elaborate political scheme to recreate the Third Reich.
    • A Discussed Trope when it comes to Adolf Hitler, in the sense that merely creating a clone of him (and raising him in a near-identical way) is enough to potentially bring about The End of the World as We Know It. If nothing else, he is dreaded enough that everyone fears this outcome. Social, political, economic factors and everything else be damned! So much so that Gorin wants them all killed.
      Liebermann: I say in my talks it takes two things to make it happen again, a new Hitler and social conditions like in the thirties. But that's not true. It takes three things: the Hitler, the conditions... and the people to follow the Hitler.
  • Karma Houdini: The various assassins, all die-hard Nazis and former concentration camp guards, are all called back and none are killed or arrested.
  • Karmic Death: Mengele dies at the hands of one of his precious clones (who sics lethal guard dogs on him.)
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Mengele kills Bobby's father, an unrepentant racist.
  • Large Ham: Both protagonists are enjoying their roles, particularly Peck.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Mengele's and his fellow Nazis' ways to take out the clones' parents. As his Villainous Breakdown continues, Mengele kind of starts caring less about this detail.
  • Nazi Hunter: The protagonists, Liebermann being the most prevalent among them. As the film goes on, Liebermann becomes the only one that doesn't believe the situation is so dire that the Godzilla Threshold of ordering the death of 95 kids is an acceptable way of dealing with a potential threat.
  • Not So Different: At the end of the movie, Liebermann accuses the Nazi hunters of being this in regards to the Nazis, since they wanted to kill children for their goals.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mengele has an epic one on his face throughout his death scene, as he realizes the dogs are going to tear him apart and the only one who can stop it is the Hitler clone, who's clearly enjoying every minute.
  • One-Book Author: Jeremy Black, who played the titular kids, never had another film role, although he still had a career as a stage actor.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • James Mason has a truly fake attempt at a German accent.
    • In-universe, Mengele can't quite lose his German accent when speaking English, especially having trouble with "th" sounds.
  • Secondary Character Title: The titular children being Hitler's clones, with both protagonists and antagonists racing around the world and against the clock to find the one that has become a "perfect" copy.
  • Society Marches On: The description of cloning is painstakingly detailed, as the concept was relegated to more futuristic sci-fi at the movie's release.
    • Also subverted, as the description remains far more accurate than most examples of cloning in Hollywood.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Mengele asks his superiors why he can't "just shoot him", only to be denied...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Another Nazi Hunter tells off Liebermann for burning the list of cloned Hitlers, saying it was stupid old fools like him who allowed the Holocaust to happen. Liebermann replies that it was Nazis "who would kill even children to get their way."
  • You Cloned Hitler!: Probably the Trope Codifier.
  • You Killed My Father: The Nazis plan is to kill the boys' fathers to replicate Hitler's origin story. But one of them, after knowing Mengele killed his old man, sends the dogs to attack him.

Alternative Title(s): The Boys From Brazil


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: