This intriguing thriller is based on Steve Shagan's best-selling 1979 book of the same title. It begins in 1945 Germany as the Third Reich realizes the end is at hand. A general is sent to Switzerland with a truckful of documents containing information on the German discovery of a formula for the manufacture of synthetic fuel. He is intercepted by an American who believes the world will become one big corporation at the end of the war.
The scene cuts to present day Los Angeles and the discovery of the dead body of Thomas Neely, an ex-police officer who has recently been dealing in cocaine. His friend, Lieutenant Barney Caine, is put on the case. Shortly after he talks to Neely's ex-wife, she is shot to death. Caine follows some clues and meets Adam Steiffel, the wealthy and shrewd head of an international oil cartel. Through a computer check, he finds out that Neely was the American officer who dealt with the German general.
Caine leaves for Germany where he tracks down both the chemist who developed the formula and the scientist who headed the Nazi synthetic fuel program. A stunning German model related to the chemist serves as his translator. Caine's investigations reveal a conspiracy of mammoth proportions to keep the formula for synthetic oil off the market.
The Formula is a fascinating yarn that raises interesting questions about business ethics and the moral bankruptcy of the very rich. George C. Scott's portrait of Caine as a driven and principled cop is top-notch. Marlon Brando's delineation as Adam Steiffel, an "ivory tower hoodlum," makes him a powerful adversary. Also featured are Marthe Keller, John Gielgud, G. D. Spradlin, and Beatrice Straight.