The Formula (1980)

R | 117 mins | Drama | 19 December 1980

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HISTORY

The following statement appears in end credits: “Photographed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, California, and CCC Studios, Berlin, Germany.”
       A 20 Apr 1980 LAT article reported that producer-novelist-screenwriter Steve Shagan stumbled upon the idea for his novel when researching another project, Voyage of the Damned (1976, see entry), at the U. S. Mission Documentation Center in Berlin. He discovered that although Allied Forces bombed Hitler’s oil supplies around the clock in 1944, and the country had no natural oil resources of its own, German forces persevered with the help of a secret formula that enabled it to manufacture synthetic oil. By the time the Allies invaded Germany, the formula was suppressed or lost. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Shagan tracked down all the surviving scientists and tangential persons linked to the formula. Many spoke under promise of anonymity and some refused to speak. A 10 Dec 1980 Var article stated that Shagan wrote twenty-two drafts of the script for director John Avildsen.
       According to a 4 Dec 1979 LAT article, French actress Dominique Sanda was replaced by actress Marthe Keller after the first few days of production. After a reading with actor George C. Scott at director Avildsen’s house, Scott complained that he could not understand Sanda’s accent, and felt she was not right for the role. Sanda withdrew, but reportedly was paid her fee of $350,000.
       A 10 Feb 1980 LAHExam news item and the 20 Apr 1980 LAT stated that actor Marlon Brando wore a facial altering biteplate, a hearing aid, rimless glasses, and inserted plugs in his nose. He ... More Less

The following statement appears in end credits: “Photographed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, California, and CCC Studios, Berlin, Germany.”
       A 20 Apr 1980 LAT article reported that producer-novelist-screenwriter Steve Shagan stumbled upon the idea for his novel when researching another project, Voyage of the Damned (1976, see entry), at the U. S. Mission Documentation Center in Berlin. He discovered that although Allied Forces bombed Hitler’s oil supplies around the clock in 1944, and the country had no natural oil resources of its own, German forces persevered with the help of a secret formula that enabled it to manufacture synthetic oil. By the time the Allies invaded Germany, the formula was suppressed or lost. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Shagan tracked down all the surviving scientists and tangential persons linked to the formula. Many spoke under promise of anonymity and some refused to speak. A 10 Dec 1980 Var article stated that Shagan wrote twenty-two drafts of the script for director John Avildsen.
       According to a 4 Dec 1979 LAT article, French actress Dominique Sanda was replaced by actress Marthe Keller after the first few days of production. After a reading with actor George C. Scott at director Avildsen’s house, Scott complained that he could not understand Sanda’s accent, and felt she was not right for the role. Sanda withdrew, but reportedly was paid her fee of $350,000.
       A 10 Feb 1980 LAHExam news item and the 20 Apr 1980 LAT stated that actor Marlon Brando wore a facial altering biteplate, a hearing aid, rimless glasses, and inserted plugs in his nose. He also sported a largely bald hairdo with random strands of gray hair, and donned an ill-fitting three-piece suit for his role as a seventy-five-year-old oil magnate. According to a brief in the 18 May 1980 LAHExam, Brando’s performance was inspired by Occidental Petroleum’s Armand Hammer.
       A 4 Dec 1979 DV news item reported that principal photography began on 3 Dec 1979 in West Germany and would spend the latter half of the schedule in various Southern California locations. However, briefs in the 31 Jan 1980 and 17 Apr 1980 HR reported that the production had finished filming in U.S. locations after delays, then spent an additional eight weeks in West Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, before completing principal photography on 17 Apr 1980 in Switzerland. The 10 Dec 1980 Var stated the film’s budget was $13.2 million.
       The 18 May 1980 LAHExam reported that Brando’s scenes were filmed in the Bel-Air, California, estate of the late hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. Production notes stated that other U. S. locations included a Sheraton West Hotel suite, a Newhall, CA, oil field, Santa Anita Racetrack, Los Angeles City Hall, a Wilshire Boulevard theater, a Westwood, CA, bank building, and a Trousdale Estates’ home.
       German locations included sets built at CCC Studios to recreate the West Berlin Zoo’s aquarium complete with a dozen hired alligators, and a Hamburg nightclub. Avildsen filmed inside the Italian Embassy in West Berlin to represent the Adion Hotel located in East Berlin, which was off-limits to filmmakers. A second “Checkpoint Charlie” was replicated several yards from the real location at the crossing point between East and West Berlin. Filming occurred from nightfall until 3:00 a.m. so as not to disturb daytime activities. Other exteriors filmed include the Wilmersdorf Krematorium, the entrance of the Berlin Zoo and the Anhalter Bahnhof, a former railway station.
       Locations in Switzerland included Lake Moritz, where jockeys raced horses on an ice track, and the Samedan Train Station. A conference room inside the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, was decorated to resemble the sanitarium.
       A 30 Nov 1980 LAT article reported that Shagan was unhappy with a rough cut of the film in early Jul 1980. He felt that it was not representative of his novel and suffered because Brando had rewritten ninety percent of his dialogue. At Avildsen’s suggestion, Shagan worked with editor David Bretherton to shape his own version of the picture. According to Avildsen, his cut was previewed in Iowa and Wisconsin and received an eighty-percent rating of good or better from the audience, while Shagan’s version was tested in San Francisco, CA, and received a sixty percent audience rating of good or better. In the end, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer President David Begelman decided to combine the first half of Shagan’s cut with Avildsen’s ending.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Cinematography.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1980
p. 3.
LAHExam
10 Feb 1980.
---
LAHExam
18 May 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Dec 1979
p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
20 Apr 1980
pp. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
30 Nov 1980
Calendar, p. 42.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1980
p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
31 Dec 1980
p. 57.
New York Times
19 Dec 1980
Section III, p. 10.
Newsweek
19 Jan 1980
pp. 79-80
Time
29 Dec 1980
p. 59.
Variety
10 Dec 1980
pp. 1, 5.
Variety
10 Dec 1980
p. 30.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
A John G. Avildsen Film
A Steve Shagan Production
A CIP Feature
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, Crew - Europe
Prod mgr, Crew - Europe
1st asst dir, Crew - Europe
2d asst dir, Crew - Europe
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Still photog - United States
Still photog - Europe
Still photog - Europe
Cam asst
Key grip
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir - Europe
Prod des - United States
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Asst ed - New York
Asst ed - Los Angeles
Asst ed - Los Angeles
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost asst, Crew - Europe
Ward, Crew - Europe
Miss Keller's ward des and coord
Christian Dior furs des by
Evening dresses by
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opt eff consultant, Crew - Europe
Spec eff dept, Crew - Europe
Title and opticals
DANCE
Choreog, Crew - Europe
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
Makeup, Crew - Europe
Makeup/Hair (Marthe Keller), Crew - Europe
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod exec - Germany
Casting consultant
Unit pub
Prod secy (USA)
Casting
Casting - Europe
Loc mgr (Berlin), Crew - Europe
Loc mgr (Switzerland), Crew - Europe
Prod asst, Crew - Europe
Prod accountant, Crew - Europe
COLOR PERSONNEL
[Col by]
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Formula by Steve Shagan (New York, 1979).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 December 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 December 1980
Production Date:
4 December--17 April 1980 in U. S., Germany, and Switzerland
Copyright Claimant:
CIP Filmproduktions, G.m.b.H.
Copyright Date:
10 February 1981
Copyright Number:
PA91092
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Panaflex® Camera and Lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
117
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25887
SYNOPSIS

During WWII, German General Helmut Kladen is given orders to transport secret documents to Switzerland that will prevent Germany from falling to Russia. However, American forces, headed by Major Thomas Neeley, capture Kladen during his mission. Neeley wants to know why the documents are important, but Kladen is reluctant to share information. However, Neeley comments that the war is over, and the world is going to become one big corporation without secrets. In present day Los Angeles, California, Police Sgt. Louis Yosuta informs Lt. Barney Caine that former Police Chief Neeley has been murdered. Current Chief, John Nolan, puts Caine in charge of the investigation. At Neeley’s home, they find a Haitian Voodoo doll leaking white powder, resting on the former chief’s body, and the name “Gene” written on a newspaper in Neeley’s blood. Sgt. Yosuta shows Caine a West Berlin city map with the name “Obermann” scrawled across it that was found in the glove compartment of Neeley’s car. Caine questions Herbert, the chauffeur of industrialist Arthur Clements. Herbert found Neeley, who was often a guest at Clements’ parties, where the cocaine flowed freely. Later, Caine breaks the news to Neeley’s ex-wife, Kay. She recalls that Clements sent Neeley to Rome, Italy, to make an important business connection for oil tycoon, Adam Steiffel. However, she does not recognize the name Obermann, and has no idea why Neeley was killed. When they meet in the evening, Chief Nolan orders Caine not to discuss Steiffel’s name, and to clear all information through him before speaking to the press. Caine suggests that Steiffel has bought police protection, but Nolan denies it. At Santa Anita racetrack, Arthur Clements tells Caine that ... +


During WWII, German General Helmut Kladen is given orders to transport secret documents to Switzerland that will prevent Germany from falling to Russia. However, American forces, headed by Major Thomas Neeley, capture Kladen during his mission. Neeley wants to know why the documents are important, but Kladen is reluctant to share information. However, Neeley comments that the war is over, and the world is going to become one big corporation without secrets. In present day Los Angeles, California, Police Sgt. Louis Yosuta informs Lt. Barney Caine that former Police Chief Neeley has been murdered. Current Chief, John Nolan, puts Caine in charge of the investigation. At Neeley’s home, they find a Haitian Voodoo doll leaking white powder, resting on the former chief’s body, and the name “Gene” written on a newspaper in Neeley’s blood. Sgt. Yosuta shows Caine a West Berlin city map with the name “Obermann” scrawled across it that was found in the glove compartment of Neeley’s car. Caine questions Herbert, the chauffeur of industrialist Arthur Clements. Herbert found Neeley, who was often a guest at Clements’ parties, where the cocaine flowed freely. Later, Caine breaks the news to Neeley’s ex-wife, Kay. She recalls that Clements sent Neeley to Rome, Italy, to make an important business connection for oil tycoon, Adam Steiffel. However, she does not recognize the name Obermann, and has no idea why Neeley was killed. When they meet in the evening, Chief Nolan orders Caine not to discuss Steiffel’s name, and to clear all information through him before speaking to the press. Caine suggests that Steiffel has bought police protection, but Nolan denies it. At Santa Anita racetrack, Arthur Clements tells Caine that Neeley’s drug dealer was named Frank Tedesco, but insists Neeley only used drugs to impress party guests not to sell. Caine returns to Kay Neeley’s house, and finds her dead in the hot tub. Later, Caine orders Yosuta to track down Thomas Neeley’s military file to see if they can locate another photograph similar to one that went missing from Kay’s house, and to contact Interpol to see if they can learn more about Tedesco’s identity. The next day, Caine meets with Steiffel, and learns that Neeley worked as a “bagman,” delivering cash overseas. During his last trip, Neeley traveled from Zurich, Switzerland, to Rome, but not to Germany. Later, Neeley’s military files reveal that the top-secret documents he captured during WWII had the code name “Genesis.” Caine has no luck convincing Chief Nolan to send him to Germany for the Neeley investigation. Nolan wants him to pursue the cocaine connection, while Caine argues that a female operative working for Tedesco, an international power broker, killed Neeley and Kay. Also, in Neeley’s dying minutes he wrote part of the word genesis in blood because of its importance. Caine reminds Chief Nolan that Hans Lehman, a German policeman and friend, owes him a favor. If his hunch does not pan out, Caine will cover his own expenses, but he believes the murders have something to do with Neeley’s military past. Nolan relents and gives Caine permission to go to Germany. Afterward, Nolan talks with an unknown caller and alerts him that Caine is on his way to Germany. In Berlin, Lehman hands Caine the telephone records from Neeley’s last visit, and says that Neeley made several calls to Paul Obermann, an engineer at the Berlin Light and Power Company. Obermann refuses Lehman’s request to meet Caine, and denies knowing Neeley. As Caine checks into his hotel, Lehman informs him that Arthur Clements and his chauffeur were killed in Beverly Hills, California, in a car explosion. As Caine unpacks, Obermann telephones and arranges to meet him alone at the zoo. There, Obermann explains that British Intelligence captured him during the war to work on the secret Genesis project, alongside Thomas Neeley and Gen. Kladen. The project used coal to manufacture synthetic fuel, which was used by the Nazis because the country had no natural oil resources. Obermann adds that the formula is still secret, but if it were introduced to the open market, natural oil producers would lose their advantage and profits would disappear. He warns that the power enjoyed by Arabs, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would shift to America with its vast reserves of coal. He tells Caine that a scientist named Dr. Abraham Esau ran the program, and then departs, and soon after, Caine leaves the zoo and discovers that Obermann has been murdered. As he stops to examine the body, assassins shoot at him. Later, Lehman criticizes Caine for acting alone, then takes him to Obermann’s apartment to speak with Lisa Spangler, a niece Obermann raised after she was orphaned. She tells them that Obermann worked as a chemist doing secret energy work during the war, and eight months earlier, he had a meeting with a Swiss businessman, Franz Tauber, that frightened him. They also learn that Obermann was once close with a colleague named Prof. Siebold. Lisa leaves to return to her apartment, and Lehman agrees to give Caine the room to do his job, as long as he is kept apprised of Caine’s investigation. At her apartment, Lisa tells her assassin boyfriend, Dieter, that she is reluctant follow Tedesco’s order to lead Caine to Siebold. The next day, she meets Caine, who asks her to help translate German documents for his case. She agrees, and they discover that Gen. Kladen was put in charge of the Genesis project after he suffered burns and a serious leg wound in combat, but his fate is unknown. They also learn that the Russians captured Dr. Esau in 1945 and then his trail grows cold. The next day, they journey to Hamburg, Germany, to see Prof. Siebold. There, Caine finds that Tauber contacted Siebold about reforming the Genesis team. However, Siebold declined, using his age as the reason. He does not know what happened to Dr. Esau, but the scientist had an assistant named Reimeck, who is now the manager of a nightclub. He reveals that during the war’s bombings, Genesis plants were never destroyed because American companies were in business with the Third Reich, and those same companies still share patents. Caine and Lisa leave, and shortly thereafter, Siebold is shot and killed. At the nightclub, Reimeck tells Caine and Lisa that Dr. Esau is terminally ill and resides at a sanatorium. As Lisa watches pole dancers at the club, she has mental flashbacks to the war. Later, Lisa wakes in a cold sweat from a nightmare. Caine comforts her, and she asks to spend the night with him. Later, at the sanatorium, Dr. Esau recounts being captured by the Russians, who wanted his formula. However, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler planned to use the documents as a bargaining chip for amnesty with the Allies, but the American army intercepted the shipment, and then Hitler lost the war. A cartel that worked to suppress the manufacture of synthetic fuel negotiated for Dr. Esau’s release in 1956. Since Caine has no agenda, the doctor writes down his precious formula, and insists that Caine promise to make it public. Soon, Caine prepares documents to mail to America and stores duplicates in a Swiss safety deposit box. In his hotel room, Caine realizes several inconsistencies to Lisa’s story and confronts her about working for Tedesco, and being hired to kill Neeley. She says that as the daughter of a concentration camp commander, she has scars that have led her to correct the world’s ills with violence. Caine asks Lisa to arrange a meeting with Tedesco. Later, Caine and Lehman question Tedesco about Neeley and the Genesis project. Tedesco reveals that during the war he was known as Gen. Helmut Kladen, and together, he and Neeley decoded and translated the Genesis files for British Intelligence. After the war, the Americans were not interested in synthetic fuel, and Paul Obermann traveled to Britain, America and Haiti. Caine knows that Tedesco ordered Neeley and Kay killed, and he will fight until he brings him to justice. Tedesco maintains that the men who killed them were eliminated, and now that Caine has been given the formula he has no cause to be upset. As Tedesco returns to his car, Lisa shoots him dead, then drops her pistol and runs off. Later, Caine gives Hans Lehman a copy of the formula with instructions that the formula be made public in the event of his death. However, Lehman notices that the page contains only simple equations, and surmises that the formula was switched during copying at the hotel. The discovery puts Police Sgt. Yosuta’s life in danger once he has possession of the coveted formula, and Caine gives orders to his fellow officers to protect Yosuta. When Caine returns home, he learns that Yosuta has been kidnapped. Caine drives to Stieffel’s office and hands over the formula in exchange for Yosuta’s freedom. While they wait for Yosuta to be returned to police jurisdiction, Stieffel explains that the formula was bought and hidden away in 1946. In the interim, the cartel bought up seventy percent of the world’s coalmines and uranium deposits. Around 1973, the price of Arabian oil jumped four hundred-percent, and the cartel decided it was time to change their strategy. However, after Tauber contacted Obermann to revive the Genesis project, the cartel was forced to change plans. Neeley was sent to Germany to evaluate interest in forming a new research group, then was murdered. Stieffel’s earlier call to the police department insured that Caine would be assigned to the case, and his presence was meant to divert attention from the original members of Genesis. Stieffel claims he only follows orders, and the Neeleys unfortunately had to be sacrificed. When Caine determines Yosuta is safe, he orders him to come to Stieffel’s office. Caine accuses Steiffel of being in the oil shortage business. Steiffel reads Tauber’s telegram, and realizes that Caine gave Esau’s formula to the Swiss. After Caine leaves, Steiffel calls Tauber and offers him a thirty percent share of his coal fields if he waits ten years to begin synthetic fuel production. Tauber agrees and tells Steiffel to draw up a contract. As Caine and Yosuta walk away, Caine observes that Steiffel got what he wanted and will not bother to kill him.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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