INGLORIOUS BASTARDS - On DemandJanuary 13, 2010



On Demand Weekly reviews films from the perspective of watching it On Demand in your home. This week, "The Inglorious Bastards."
Related only to Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film by title and period, 1978's "The Inglorious Bastards" directed by Enzo G. Castellari is (especially now) the flagship of the Euro War films genre -- aka "Macaroni War," "Macaroni Combat" -- mainly late 60's-70's knockoffs of American WWII films produced/directed by Italian filmmakers, patterned after the paradigm of "Spaghetti Westerns" from the mid-60's. Get it? Spaghetti Western? Macaroni Combat? (That's a spicy meatball!).
Unlike Leone's masterwork "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," "The Inglorious Bastards," (a follow up to "The Dirty Dozen") is strictly a B-movie. It's cheaply shot, dubbed, anachronistic, packed with stock sound effects and has many unintentionally funny moments. But the film is entertaining and has value in its genre. Watching this film gives you bragging rights to seeing the "original" that inspired Mr. Tarantino and its place in the connected fabric of film history makes it a blast to have under your belt (the way many of us enjoyed delving into Hong Kong cinema after seeing "Reservoir Dogs.")
Set in France during WWII, a group of American soldiers are herded together for a trip to the stockade, having committed various infractions, ranging from desertion to murder. When their convoy is hit by German artillery, a core group of prisoners (our heroes) escape and try to make it to the Swiss border. Along the way, they are forced to join a group of French Partisans planning to overtake a German train carrying valuable technology. Not everything goes as planned, but these bastards go out with a bang. (It's amusing to note there are five credited writers for the screenplay.)
When watching or speaking of this 1978 film, it's difficult not to reference 2009's "Inglorious Basterds" and all that inspired it -- and we should because it adds to the fun of the experience. Making connections -- understanding that Mr. Tarantino began his Basterds as a pure "Men-on-a-mission" style revenge film (like "The Dirty Dozen" and this film) but after "Kill Bill" took revenge all the way, he went with more of a Sergio Leone feel in WWII trappings, playing with many of the best elements of the combat genre, but on a more intimate level. In both cases the titular heroes are only heroes because they're fighting the Nazis - otherwise they'd be villains -- but in the 2009 film, the "Basterds" are more recognizable icons than central figures.
During the 1978 film, it's fun to hone in as the American lieutenant speaks in German as a German -- glossing over the fact that he probably sounds like John Wayne speaking German. You wonder what would happen if film rules didn't apply and the German officer detected an odd accent - a little detail Mr. Tarantino turned into a tense fifteen minute scene in his film. 1978's "The Inglorious Bastards" is full of the kinds of stock conventions directors love to turn on their heads. It also has clear, memorable characters, something quite a few modern directors could stand to learn from (a notable exception being Mr. Tarantino.)
The original working title was literally translated as "Bastards Without Glory." Its other re-issue titles included "Hell's Heroes," "Deadly Mission," "Counterfeit Commandos," and best of all, amid the success of the blaxploitation genre, distributors named it "G.I. Bro" and re-edited the film to make genre star Fred Williamson ("Black Caesar") the lead character. (The tag line for that version was "If you're a kraut, he'll take you out!") If you're a film fan you cannot still be debating watching this.
As for me, I'm inspired to dive in to my vast collection of tortellini romances, penne mysteries and manicotti sci-fi films. Arrivederci!
- Sean McPhillps
Sean McPhillips is a new contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. He is a former vice president of acquisitions for Miramax Films (During Harvey's reign). He is a current writer/director for NY-based Secret Hideout Films
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