Action, Adventure, Comedy, Memorial Day, War

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

Comments Off on The Inglorious Bastards (1978) 27 October 2013

Inglorious BastardsStudio: Severin

Theatrical Release: December, 1981 (USA)

Blu Ray Release: July 28, 2009

Rating: R

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari

Review by Tim Bodzioney

On the surface The Inglorious Bastards (1978 Enzo G. Castellari) is a straight war film. I generally break down war films into two categories: realistic—those depicting the horrors of war, such as William A. Wellman’s Battleground; and fantasy—the celebration of macho individualism, the peak of this type of film being Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen. The Inglorious Bastards is definitely in the later category and owes much to, though not all, to The Dirty Dozen.

The Inglorious Bastards tells the story of a group of soldiers in 1944 on their way to being court-marshaled for various offenses, ranging from theft to murder. One of the soldiers, Lt. Robert Yeager, is a good ole’ boy who in between missions pilots his bomber to London to visit his girlfriend. The truck carrying the prisoners is attacked by German soldiers and after a gunfight leaves their captors dead, Yeager, along with four others, decides to make for freedom at the Swiss border.

After a series of encounters with the enemy, The Dirty Five eventually bungle their way into a mission that could affect the outcome of the war. They have to hijack a train carrying a new missile that could turn the war to Germany’s favor.

Italian genre films are wacky—they steal from other movies so freely, combining elements from different genres, that they become subgenres unto themselves. Even great filmmakers like Sergio Leone played this game, as A Fistful of Dollars is nearly a scene-by-scene remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

The development of the pre-1950 Italian film industry, as in Europe at large, differed greatly from that in the U.S. Much of this had to do with the fact that two major wars were fought across most of the European continent in a span of less than forty years—the same forty years that happened to coincide with the flourishing of the American film industry. The two wars resulted in interruption of production throughout much of Europe, which was not the case in the US.

It seems that the one bright spot of the Mussolini era is the construction of the massive film studio Cinecitta in 1938. Immediately after the war the Neo Realist movement emerges, introducing to the world stage directors such as Rossellini and DiSica. Within economically dictated modest means, masterpieces such as Open City, Paisan, Germany, Year Zero, The Bicycle Thieves, and Umberto D were produced in quick succession.

By the mid 1950s the Italian film industry branched off into imitating genres that were commercially successful in other countries, dabbling in horror and sword and sandal pictures. The success of these led to Spaghetti Westerns and Giallos as well as gritty crime pictures. Italian movie producers, like those in other European film industries, would often employ American stars to try to break into international markets. Usually these stars were on the descent, but sometimes—as in the case of Clint Eastwood—they were on the rise.

The Inglorious Bastards stars three American actors: Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, and Fred Williamson. Svenson had some success in US television and movies, taking over the Buford Pusser role in the Walking Tall sequels and subsequent television series. It’s odd, given his European childhood, that Svenson would become identified with the types of roles he played—it’s almost as if they were trying to make him into a blond Burt Reynolds.

Fred Williamson is an interesting genre figure. Born in Gary, Indiana, he played college football at Northwestern University and later pro ball for several teams. During his football career, he created a persona—‘The Hammer.’ He broke into show business in the late 1960s via television, and in 1970 appears in Robert Altman’s MASH as Spearchucker Jones, one of only two characters not used in the long-running television series, and in Otto Preminger’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. Williamson is a charismatic actor who may have been about ten years ahead of his time, as Hollywood didn’t offer many opportunities for African American leading men in this era. So Williamson, employing his ‘Hammer’ persona wisely became a star in Blaxploitation films in the early to mid 1970s. The Blaxploitation craze only lasted around five years, and with its demise Williamson found work in Italy for the next ten years. He also produced and directed movies and has worked steadily over the last 40 years.

I had never heard of Peter Hooten prior to this review. With Italian movies one is never certain of whose voice is being used in English versions. Sound was not recorded while filming. Even actors with distinctive voices such as Christopher Lee would get dubbed in post-production by voice artists for English-speaking markets. Because of this, I assumed that Peter Hooten was similar to Terence Hill—a blond Italian actor given an Anglo sounding name for marquee value. Even odder is that Hooten plays a Chicago mobster named Tony, but sounds like a southern FM disc jockey and looks like a 1970s Southern California surfer. I was surprised to learn that Hooten is indeed an American actor. He’s the weakest of the three leads.

Jackie Basehart, the son of actors Richard Basehart and Valentina Cortese, plays the role of Berle. The charmless Michael Pergolani plays the role of Nick. British actor Ian Bannen plays the American Colonel who masterminds the train assault.

The Inglorious Bastards steals shamelessly from multiple sources, most notably, as stated above, The Dirty Dozen. There also seems to be a bit of Von Ryan’s Express and maybe even a dash of Hogan’s Heroes. It even steals other movies’ anachronisms, as you get a bit of Kelly’s Heroes by way of the hippy Nick channeling Donald Sutherland’s character. But hippies aren’t the only anachronisms found in the movie as not one actor bothered getting a military haircut. And in one scene we see Nick doctoring papers with White Out, a product that wasn’t invented until nearly twenty years after World War ll.

The Inglorious Bastards is a hard movie not to enjoy, however, because of its total lack of self-consciousness and pretention. It is easy to forgive its thievery and lack of verisimilitude. Amazingly there are five writers credited to the screenplay, each with numerous film and television titles on their resumes. Sandro Continenza co-wrote one of my favorites Night of the Living Dead rip-offs of the era, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and Romano Migliorini worked twice with Mario Bava (Kill Baby, Kill and Lisa and the Devil) as well as working on The Bloody Pit of Horror.

Director Enzo G. Castellari’s 44-film career began in 1966 and continues through today. Looking over his credits is like looking over a list of the popular genres of the last fifty years. While Castellari’s movies are never at the forefront of a genre, they represent a busy career based on imitation. Eagles Over London is a knock-off of the big budget, international war movies of the 1960s, beginning with The Longest Day through The Battle of the Bulge along with some Battle of Britain for good measure. Cold Eyes of Fear is a Giallo. Keoma comes at the end of the Spaghetti Western cycle. The Last Shark was deemed so blatant a rip-off of Jaws that Universal blocked its distribution in the US. 1990: The Bronx Warriors capitalizes on the success of Walter Hill’s The Warriors.

Interestingly, Castellari’s father Mario Girolami, was also a film director whose career was even more prolific. His credits include the notorious Zombie Holocaust and include, like his son, a long collection of imitations. Two of my favorite titles of his are: My Friend Dr. Jekyll and 4 Crazy Draftees at the Army!

Castellari keeps Bastards moving along quickly so one doesn’t dwell on the flaws. Its low budget is well spent. The special effects include miniatures and a number of matte shots. Most effects come off as convincing. Where the budget fails is in size. You never get the sense of scope that you get in the bigger-budgeted war films mentioned above.

The movie on Blu-Ray looks great, probably better than release prints of 1978 ever looked. The 5.1 channel soundtrack seemed somewhat muted. I had to crank it up a bit on my system.

The extras include an audio commentary by Castellari, a documentary of the making of the movie, a recently shot video of Castellari revisiting the shooting locations. Two wonderful pieces shot in L.A.— a screening with Castellari, Svenson, and Williamson in attendance; and a 70th birthday celebration, again with Svenson and Williamson, along with other actors such as Lou Ferrigno (the real Hulk as far I’m concerned) who appeared in Castellari- directed movies; and finally an interview with Castellari conducted by Quentin Tarantino. I have not seen Tarantino’s in-title only remake, but I’d venture to guess that he made more money off of that one movie than the hard-working Castellari made off of his entire film output. I guess it only goes to show that with the circle of imitation closing that thievery does pay off.

Rating: ★★★½☆

 

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