This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (October 2020)
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
|Directed by||John G. Avildsen|
|Produced by||Steve Shagan|
|Screenplay by||Steve Shagan|
|Based on||The Formula|
by Steve Shagan
George C. Scott
G. D. Spradlin
John van Dreelen
|Music by||Bill Conti|
|Edited by||John Carter|
|Distributed by||United Artists (United States/Canada)|
Cinema International Corporation (International)
|Country||West Germany |
|Box office||$8.9 million|
The Formula is a 1980 American-West German mystery film directed by John G. Avildsen and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It features a preeminent cast including Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, John Gielgud, and Marthe Keller. Craig T. Nelson also makes a brief appearance as a geologist.
It was partly shot at the Spandau Studios in Berlin, with location shooting in St Moritz and Hamburg. The remainder was shot at the MGM studios in Culver City. The sets were designed by the art director Herman A. Blumenthal.
The film opens in the final days of World War II as Soviet forces close in on the outskirts of Berlin. Panzer Korps General Helmut Kladen (Richard Lynch) is dispatched to the Swiss frontier with top secret documents to be used as a bargaining chip with the Allies to save Germany from the Soviets. He is subsequently intercepted by the U.S. Army and turned over to Army Intelligence.
In contemporary Los Angeles, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) is assigned to solve the murder of his former boss and friend Tom Neeley, which presumably occurred during a drug deal gone wrong. However, Neeley has written "Gene" on a newspaper in his own blood, and Caine finds a map of Germany with the name "Obermann" on it. Caine is surprised to learn that Neeley provided drugs at parties hosted by the tycoon Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). When he interviews Neeley's ex-wife (Beatrice Straight), he quickly catches her in several lies, and when he returns to interview her a second time, he finds her shot dead in her hot tub.
Steiffel reveals in his interview that Neeley was working for him as a bagman. Neeley was sent overseas by the company to deliver money to business partners. Caine becomes convinced he must go to Germany to solve Neeley's murder, he convinces his Chief (Alan North) to allow him to go to Germany to continue the investigation. Later, the Chief is seen phoning one of Steiffel's cronies (G. D. Spradlin) to tell him that Caine has taken the bait.
Once in Berlin, Caine meets Paul Obermann (David Byrd) at the Berlin Zoo. Obermann explains operation "Genesis" - a synthetic fuel formula that the Nazis had produced (and could wreck the current oil-economy). This confirms Caine's hunch that Neeley was killed over Genesis. Obermann is then murdered outside the zoo. At his apartment, his niece Lisa (Marthe Keller) shows up to be interviewed by the police. At Obermann's memorial service, Caine asks Lisa to accompany him to act as his interpreter. Lisa agrees and they follow up on a lead that Obermann gave him regarding Professor Siebold who worked on the formula.
During their interview with Siebold (Ferdy Mayne), he reveals that the inventor of the formula, Dr. Abraham Esau (John Gielgud), is still alive. After they leave his apartment, Siebold is shot in the head through a window. When they meet up with Esau, he writes down the formula for Caine, after he makes Caine promise to make it public. Lisa and Caine make photocopies and send them to the LAPD and a Swiss energy company. Caine also hides two copies from Lisa, depositing them in the hotel's safe. Subsequently, he reveals that he has deduced that she is not Obermann's niece at all, but a spy sent to keep tabs on him. Lisa admits it, but claims she didn't sleep with him because of her orders.
At the border with East Berlin, Caine confronts Tadesco who relates how he knew Neeley, and what transpired after his capture by the Americans. As Tadesco walks towards his car, Lisa kills Tadesco, then walks towards East Berlin. At the airport before flying home to Los Angeles, Caine realizes the two copies of the formula in the hotel safe were replaced with fakes by Lisa, and that the only real copies are with the LAPD and the Swiss.
After landing in Los Angeles, he heads straight to Steiffel's office. Steiffel has kidnapped Caine's partner (Yosuta) and is holding him to exchange for the copy of the formula.
After exchanging the formula for Yosuta's release, Caine demands answers from Steiffel. Steiffel then outlines the cartel's plan since the end of the war, to keep the formula secret. They had been able to keep it secret until Swiss businessman, Tauber, began searching for the members of the original Genesis team, in the hope the team could recreate the formula. Tauber's actions made the members of the Genesis team a liability to the cartel, so Steiffel had pulled strings to get Caine sent on a trip to Germany, which would serve as a cover for the cartel's plot to eliminate the remaining members.
Just before leaving, Caine reveals that he sent the formula to Tauber.
After their meeting, Steiffel makes a phone call to Tauber, asking him to keep the formula secret for another 10 years in exchange for a 25% share of his anthracite holdings. They negotiate briefly, and Tauber agrees to not use the formula for 10 years.
- Marlon Brando as Adam Steiffel
- George C. Scott as Lt. Barney Caine
- Marthe Keller as Lisa Spangler
- John Gielgud as Dr. Abraham Esau
- G. D. Spradlin as Arthur Clements
- Beatrice Straight as Kay Neeley
- Richard Lynch as Gen. Helmut Kladen/Frank Tedesco
- John van Dreelen as Hans Lehman
- Robin Clarke as Maj. Tom Neeley
- Ike Eisenmann as Tony
- Marshall Thompson as Geologist #1
- Dieter Schidor as Assassin
- Werner Kreindl as Schellenberg
- Jan Niklas as Gestapo Captain
- Wolfgang Preiss as Franz Tauber
- David Byrd as Paul Obermann
- Ferdy Mayne as Prof. Siebold
- Alan North as Chief John Nolan
- Calvin Jung as Sgt. Louis Yosuta
- Louis Basile as Sgt. Vince Rizzo
- Gerry Murphy as Herbert Glenn, Clements' Chauffeur
- Craig T. Nelson as Geologist #2
- Herb Voland as Geologist #3
The film opened to mixed to negative reviews from critics. It was said that behind the scenes, John G. Avildsen was after a print of the film he liked to be released. Studio infighting led him to demand the film to be left alone, but writer-producer Steve Shagan decided to cut the film into a different version that ultimately ended in the theaters. Avildsen was bitter. He also wanted the print to be released to have little of Marlon Brando to emphasize the mystery. While critics liked the acting, they were not stunned by the plot and its twists. It earned several Golden Raspberry nominations.
Awards and nominations
- Nominated: Worst Picture
- Nominated: John G. Avildsen for Worst Director
- Nominated: Marlon Brando for Worst Supporting Actor
- Nominated: Steve Shagan for Worst Screenplay
- Nominated: Marlon Brando for Worst Supporting Actor
- Nominated: Marlon Brando for Most Annoying Fake Accent (Male)