M-G-M refused to let director John Avildsen take his name off this picture. According to Avildsen, it was not his original cut, nor producer-writer Steve Shagan’s cut, but sort of a combination of the two, plus a few snips and patches by M-G-M president David Begelman.
Given the combined efforts of 14 Oscar nominees and a solid bestseller [by Shagan] to start from, it’s truly amazing that The Formula is such a clump of sludge, impossible to understand for at least an hour before it grinds to a halt.
Initial sequences solidly establish the closing hours of World War II when a German general (Richard Lynch) is entrusted with top secret documents to take to Switzerland in hopes the Nazis can use them to bargain for amnesty. But Lynch is captured by a US major (Robin Clarke) who recognizes what the secrets will be worth in the postwar world of commerce.
Cut forward 35 years and Clarke is a fresh corpse, murdered in his bed. George C. Scott is called in to investigate the murder of his old friend and before long establishes Clarke had some mysterious dealings with oil supertycoon Marlon Brando.
Appearing grotesquely fat and ridiculous, Brando apparently thinks he’s making some visual comment on the nature of his character.
1980: Nomination: Best Cinematography