Inglorious Bastards: Special Edition (DK - DVD R2)
You can keep your Dirty Dozen, Gabe Powers goes to war with the Filthy Five
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At the tail end of WWII a group of American soldiers are shipped off to military prison for a variety of infractions, ranging from simple desertion to cold-blooded murder. While in transport a German artillery attack hits the convoy, killing the MPs and enabling five of the prisoners to escape. The group decides to head for neutral Switzerland, where they can avoid the fighting and prison. As they make their way to what they assume will be freedom, they unexpectedly find themselves volunteering for a commando mission to steal a V2 warhead for the French Underground.
Any film fanatic that doesn’t like Robert Aldrich’s Dirty Dozen is suspect. The Dozen, of course, had its inspirations ( Seven Samurai, Gun of Navarone, The Great Escape), but few films have infiltrated the world psyche as thoroughly, and few films have inspired so much more of the same. The general rule of thumb in art and entertainment is that rip-offs suck, yet most of the films that have imitated the Dirty Dozen model have been monstrously entertaining in the least. Some of the subgenre’s best (and very few movies can claim a subgenre in their wake, maybe Jaws) have come from Italy, a nation known for milking popular formulas to powder.
Though I’m particularly partial to Gianfranco Parolini’s Five for Hell, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom of trash cineaste Quentin Tarantino when he calls Inglorious Bastards (aka: Quel maledetto treno blindato, Deadly Mission, and G.I. Bro as a re-edited edition) the subgenre’s finest, and one of his personal favourite war features. Enzo G. Castellari, the director behind other successful cash-ins like The New Barbarians, and Great White, and genuinely successful Spaghetti Westerns like Keoma and Johnny Hamlet, crafts a joyous romp on the less than serious side of the last great war, and the energy behind his craft is impossible to resist.
The characters are quite arch, and the plot quite incidental (it really could be summed up as ‘some tough guys stop Nazis’), but Inglorious Bastards celebrates its shortcomings with effective performances, and a whole lot of ‘70s style, lo-fi action. The sterling cast is fronted by two grindhouse favourites—Bo Svenson (you may remember him as the Reverend in Kill Bill 2) and Fred Williamson (if you don’t know who he is you obviously don’t like ‘70s cinema). Though Svenson is obviously filling the Lee Marvin slot on the roster, his brand of charm is different from the veteran tough guy, and the Swedish born, real life Marine generates a genuinely memorable performance. Williamson, typecast to this day, wisely plays partially against type. He still plays the tough guy, but here he plays most scenes for more light-hearted laughs (like coyly peeking between clasped fingers at bathing German beauties).
The only thing missing from this cast is an effective villain—a Klaus Kinski or even a Werner Klemperer. Inglorious Bastards is a movie about anti-heroes, and because the protagonists often represent the best and worst in people the screenwriters forget to include a dastardly, or even gimmicky evildoer.
For the most part Castellari avoids the weighty issues and morals that normal follow WWII features, instead aiming for a simple, fun time. Considering his other films, the country of origin, and the year the film was made, Inglorious Bastards is also a remarkably bloodless feature. There’s a lot of slow motion shoot up, but not much in the way of juicy squibs or racing red stuffs. This sort of innocence just adds to the film’s charm and its Saturday afternoon serial flavour. Only a particularly amusing scene of naked, bathing German maidens and a couple of naughty words (the dialogue is actually quite clever for an Italian feature filmed in English and German), Inglorious Bastards would be a fine picture to show the kiddies.
Some readers may know that Tarantino has had his eye on remaking, or rather ‘re-imagining’ Inglorious Bastards since way back in the Pulp Fiction days. Though I’m usually against the idea of redoing what’s already been done to death (remaking a rip-off, now that is meta), re-appropriation is QT’s forte. If he can take the conventions of the genre and work his beer-goggle magic, this film is a great place to start. There is room for improvement in character development and the intricacies of the team’s last act mission, and I’m sure the director could rope in some classic B-actors to star as the bastards themselves.
Old and cheap movies shouldn’t be expected to look too good, but this disc goes above and beyond the call of duty (see what I did there?). Details are sharp, and artefacts and dirt are minimal. Colours are nice, but seem slightly faded, especially the greens, which could use a bit of richness. Blacks are relatively deep, and contrast levels are good overall, with a few exceptions where hard lit edges bloom a bit. The sharpness of the transfer is impressive, but leads to a bit of edge enhancement, and a few cases of jaggies on the edges of brighter, solid colours, like reds.
Unless you happen to speak Italian, or you can read German, Norwegian, Finnish or Swedish, I recommend sticking with the English language, Dolby Digital Mono track. Most of the lead actors are dubbing themselves in English anyway. The track is a little flat, and action sound effects tend to lean towards the tinny, but most everything is clean and understandable. As always explosions could do with a bit of bass separation, but there isn’t much distortion at higher volume levels and the dialogue is clear, if not low in relative fidelity. The film’s bombastic, marching band-like score is also clean, and I guarantee that the main title theme will be stuck in your head several days after your initial viewing.
A note of caution however—because this is a Scandinavian release with no English subtitles (which is strange considering that the extras are all English subtitled), the sections of the film where German is spoken are left ambiguously un-captioned. There is only one spot where this became a bit of a bother, and that’s when our heroes infiltrate Nazi ranks. The specifics of the Nazi’s plans were totally lost in translation because no one is speaking English. Besides this moment, the Nazi dialogue does not need translating because the things they are saying are made immediately obvious by their actions.
The first disc of this two-disc set is bereft of extra features, but disc two is relatively packed. The two biggest extras are a pair of interviews, both lasting sizable slices of time.
The first interview is with director Enzo G. Castellari, and does include English subtitles. The director ponders his career, the film’s he’s made, and the people he’s known, but mostly sticks to the brass tacks of Inglorious Bastards. This is followed by a few words with composer Francesco De Masi, the man behind such unshakable scores as those of Fulci’s The New York Ripper, Joseph Manduke’s Take a Hard Ride, and Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet. Both interviews are of the talking head variety, and a bit slow, but quite informative and insightful
The international credits (opening and closing), which use the title of The Inglorious Bastards rather than Quel maledetto treno blindato, are here for the completists in the house, as is a slide show of stills, including poster art.
Next, the multilingual disc features English language versions of its cast and crew bios, though the English itself is a little broken, and the writers mistakenly credit Castellari with directing Marino Girolami’a Zombie Holocaust (aka: Dr. Butcher, M.D.). The trivia screens are also in English. The extras are finished off with a trailer, and a series of trailers for other, random releases.
I see no reason not to recommend Inglorious Bastards. It’s a fun, wartime romp, complete with tough guys, explosions, gunfire, naked women, trains, and airplanes. Some may find the dated look a bit too quaint, and others may not have the patience for the budget constraints, but the rest of us will have a blast.
You can find Inglorious Bastards and other Dirty Dozen inspired war flicks like Gianfranco Parolini’s Five For Hell at Xploitedcinema.com. Check them out and support my sponsor.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 7th August 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Italian
Subtitles: Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish
Extras: Director Interview, Composer Interview, International Credits, Stills, Trailers, Trivia, Bios
Easter Egg: No
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Cast: Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson & Michael Pergolani
Length: 99 minutes
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