The recent DVD release of Inglorious Bastards is not exclusively due to its artistic merits but also to the publicity given to the film by that cinema archaeologist, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is currently working on a remake, and announced he had finished the script at the P-Town film festival. Brad Pitt has now been confirmed in the lead, and the cast also includes Mike Myers and Eli Roth.
‘Castellari made various films that I could define as ‘fast and easy’, not too demanding, like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, which was exploiting the success of films such as Mad Max. As far as I’m concerned, he (Castellari) will remain the director who best knew how to direct Franco Nero. The Castellari film that I prefer though – and that I think is one of the best examples of Italian exploitation – is Inglorious Bastards.’ (Nocturno Dossier N. 66: ‘Il Punto G: Guida al cinema di Enzo G. Castellari’, March 2008). When Tarantino opened the retrospective ‘The Italian King of B’s’ at the 2004 Venice Biennale with Joe Dante, he publicly declared his love for Italian B-cinema of the 60s and 70s. He has shined a spotlight on many forgotten gems of Italian genre/exploitation cinema, among which Milan Calibre 9, a classy thriller that rivals the finest Melville and which Tarantino considers to be the best Italian noir of all time. Inglorious Bastards is no such masterpiece (and Castellari himself does not understand what Tarantino sees in it), but it is not difficult to see what attracted the director to this entertaining, action-packed war movie, which takes the stylistic elements of the genre to an extreme.
The chief reference is Robert Aldrich’s 1967 seminal war movie The Dirty Dozen (in Italian the two titles are a near match), and the film follows a similar plot. In Aldrich’s film, a group of prisoners are submitted to a harsh drill after which they attack a German compound in a suicidal mission. In Castellari’s rustic and surreal version, a group of deserters mistakenly kill a bunch of fellow soldiers dressed as Nazis and replace them to carry out a risky assault on a German train carrying a bomb.
Even though the characterisation of the roguish characters, the situations and the narrative development derive from Aldrich’s work, the film distinguishes itself by its sloven style, its gross humour and heavy-handed approach (perhaps that’s what Tarantino considers as the finest Italian exploitation). However, it is also worth noting that the film achieves remarkable technical results on a very limited budget. And unlike American war movies where everybody inexplicably speak American English, it has Nazi soldiers and French partisans respectively speak their own language, an interesting feature that Tarantino is set to replicate in his remake.
There are many set pieces that make the film worth watching, from the beautiful sequence of slow-motion deaths – Castellari must have seen Sam Pekinpah’s Cross of Iron – to the terrific final explosion at the train station. A little miracle of mise en scíÂ¨ne, this sequence is characterised by a savvy use of models and matte that creates an astonishing visual detonation which, I am sure, many modern special effects experts would admire for its hand-crafted mastery. There is also an unexpected and surreal scene where some German women, presumably reserve soldiers, are bathing naked in a river… an enjoyably nonsensical sequence of a kind that has all but disappeared from today’s ultra-efficient, plot-driven, creatively limited cinema. The film is well served by its cast and Fred Williamson’s impressive performance is considered by Tarantino to be the actor’s best. His angry face is featured on the American poster (under the alternative title GI Bro) with the slogan: ‘If you’re a Kraut, he’ll take you out’.
All in all, Inglorious Bastards remains solidly entertaining after 30 years, and the fitting mise en scíÂ¨ne, the credible narrative and the calibrated editing of the action scenes reveal the incredible craftsmanship of a director whose skills have been unjustly underestimated. We’ll have to wait until June 2009, when the remake is set to come out in the USA, to see if the same can be said about Tarantino’s version.
Celluloid Liberation Front