Set in W.W.II France, The Inglorious Bastards follows five soldiers who are each facing court-martial for crimes ranging from stealing to murder. After a Nazi attack on the convoy transporting the prisoners to court, the soldiers escape and quickly decide to make way for neutral Switzerland where they will find freedom and sanctuary for their past crimes. Being they are a mixture of escaped prisoners and U.S. soldiers, the ragtag crew really has no one on their side and they are faced with having to fight off both American and German soldiers as they make way to their destination. After an error in judgment, the band of brothers find themselves in a position where they can choose to help the cause against the Axis forces and maybe gain a bit of retribution for their past deeds at the same time.
1978 saw the release of Enzo G. Castellari’s now somewhat well known film, The Inglorious Bastards, and as with any Italian film of this type, there are a shit-ton of aka’s to go along: Quel maledetto treno blindato, That Bloody Armored Train, The Dirty Bastard, Hell’s Heroes, Counterfeit Commandos, Deadly Mission, and of course, my personal fav… G.I. Bro! A film that was re-cut to focus on Fred Williamson’s character – so that it could be marketed to black audiences during the Blaxploitation kinda-craze of the 70’s. It even came with a badass tag line…”If you’re a kraut, he’ll take you out!” I would love to see that version of the film I’ll tell ya! Of course, Inglorious Bastards has really been brought to attention due to the recent Tarantino film of the same name, sans spelling capabilities. However, that film had been on the Tarantino slate for many years so that is where it really started to be noticed by more than just a handful of knowledgeable Italian Exploitation film fans.
I finally have had the long overdue chance to sit down and spend an evening with the Bastards, and boy was it truly an Inglorious time indeed (bad joke… sorry.)! I so wish I saw this film before and didn’t wait as long as I did, because I flat out loved this movie. I am a huge fan of War films, on top of being a big fan of the classic film, The Dirty Dozen where both films share a few similarities in that the characters are on the wrong side of the law and have the odds stacked against them. The Inglorious Bastards even has a tag line that reads “What the Dirty Dozen did, THEY DO IT DIRTIER!” Not quite as good as the kraut line from G.I. Bro, but pretty cool nonetheless. My personal reason for the comparisons of both films easily has to be that they each have amazing casts that bring both of these great films to a completely new level. The Bastards are as follows: Fred “The Hammer” Williamson as Pvt. Fred Canfield, Bo Svenson as Lt. Robert Yeager, Peter Hooten as Tony, Michael Pergolani as Nick, and Jackie Basehart as Berle.
All of the actors are great and really compliment each other as comrades forced into, well, comradery. Williamson, as always, is fantastic as he chews his way through every scene with his patented brand of cigar chomping tough guy, all done with a sly smile. Svenson is a monster of a presence and plays the reluctant leader role quite well, but the films stand out performance comes from Michael Pergolani who plays a thick mustached, eye-talian thief, Nick. He is the main comic relief of The Inglorious Bastards and he almost plays his role in the same fashion of a silent film comedian, done with very little dialogue, and a knack for physicality. In addition, his mustache is legendary to say the least.
While on the subject of humor, The Inglorious Bastards has some serious tones to be found, but there is plenty of great humor found throughout the film. One scene has Hooten’s character, Tony asking Nick how long he has been in prison. Nick responds, without a word, by removing his helmet to show some pretty lengthy hair signifying how long he has been inside. There is some great dialogue with lines such as “No no no…makes my asshole itch” when a character is referring to having some pepper in his food, and “Tie a knot in your prick” is said to a character after mentioning that he has to piss!
It’s a little slow in the middle of the film, but the action is plentiful and skillfully shot, and even when there is no action to be found, you will enjoy your time spent with our antiheroes on their journey. Castellari once again shows why he is always so championed in his niche of cinema and shovels out some nice direction – the Giovanni Bergamini cinematography is spot on with some long slow pan shots, well done shaky-cam, and some perfectly executed slow-mo action moments at the most opportune of times. I also really found the score by Francesco de Masi to be great and it makes for some catchy and solid war film music that could easily sit in your subconsciousness for days.
There is a lot pulled off with what would be a pretty low budget for The Inglorious Bastards. With some nice locations, and the uniforms and all the weaponry look authentic enough. You get some great looking matte paintings used to convey depth and a sense of epicness, and then there’s the noticeable, but still very cool models and miniatures used for some of the more unattainable (budget wise) destruction scenes. As for the actual action its self, it is abundant and slightly over the top, but is so much fun to watch as Germans all take the most epic of falls when they get shot…arms flail into the air, and sometimes even their entire body gets a nice little lift too!
If you get the chance to watch The Inglorious Batards on DVD there is the great conversation between a wild looking (putting it mildly) and possibly half cocked Quentin Tarantino and Castellari where Enzo gives some great behind the scenes insight for The Inglorious Bastards. Castellari speaks of some the issues faced outside of the budget that caused the director to come up with some on the fly solutions that resulted in some memorable and possibly even better scenes than originally planned.
Castellari’s biggest challenge came when the Italian government decided that prop guns could no longer be used on movie sets midway through the filming of The Inglorious Bastards! Not a good thing for a War film with no budget to change locations and go to a different country. Castellari also made great and nearly unnoticeable use of balsa wood made machine guns that were equipped with a device to create sparks at the end of the barrel. Also, the director had to completely restage a major action scene after the law was passed, but the quick thinking director stepped up his game and came up with a scene where the Bastards use an array of non-firearm weapons, like knives and crossbows. This scene happened to be a stand out one for me, and to hear that story afterward was very interesting.
I think the only real complaint I have about the film is, the random nonsensical love story that would seem to have a purpose, but really doesn’t by the film’s end. Either way, The Inglorious Bastards is a fun film that is a must see for any fan of War films/Mission films and fans of Italian Exploitation cinema. It transcends the average rip-off films with a sense of originality, and there is a lot of care put into the film. It just has it all, tons of great action, it’s well shot, it has solid and well written characters, and there is even a scene with a bunch of naked chicks swimming… then shooting machine guns! Seriously… what more could you want?! Your answer should be… nothing.