Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Inglorious Bastards and Tarantino’s youthful enthusiasm

One of the most striking things about the new DVD of the original 1977 version of The Inglorious Bastards is Tarantino’s interview with the director Enzo G. Castellari. Castellari looks thrilled to be there, but Tarantino does not interview so much as rave about how as a kid the obscurity of The Inglorious Bastards kept him from watching it except very occasionally on television. Now that Tarantino seems to have signed on Brad Pitt for his new version due to be released by 2009, it's fascinating to look at this action film as a classic case of the pulp roots of Tarantino’s genius.

After watching the DVD, I can only ask—this movie? During World War II, a band of thieves, deserters, murderers, and general scoundrels are in the midst of being shipped off by truck to military prison when a German air attack sets them free. Surrounded on all sides by the war, they try to get to Switzerland. Along the way, they shoot massive numbers of Germans and get into various scraps until the French Resistance persuades them to try to steal a German V2 warhead from a train.

The film has lots of fun scenes, but it is not very plausible. Blending together spaghetti western machismo with a massive body count, the inglorious bastards mow down Germans, switch sides, and get out of German imprisonment with Indiana Jones-like ease. After awhile, one gets used to Germans throwing their arms up in the air as they easily fall over. There’s one scene where the bastards serenely take on a German military castle with a slingshot, knives, and even a crossbow in part because the Italian production ran out of guns. The director Castellari obviously takes a playful joy in all of these Hogan’s Heroes hi-jinks. Fred Williamson as Private Fred Canfield channels a kind of Superfly toughness that suited the blaxploitation of the 1970s (one of the Americanized video versions of the movie was called G. I. Bro), and another cheeky fellow acts just like an Italian variation on Paul Newman.

Perhaps it was the cheesy dubbing. Perhaps it was the ballet-like slow motion shots of soldiers flying in the air, but I had a hard time getting into the spirit of The Inglorious Bastards with the amount of enthusiasm Tarantino clearly has. Perhaps, Tarantino is right to try to look beyond what he calls the “horrors of war” of other films like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, but The Inglorious Bastards still comes off as a relatively crude youthful fantasy. Perhaps that is what Tarantino has always done—transmute 70s pulp into gleefully ironic and iconic movies, but his strength often lies in dialogue, especially in his glory period of Pulp Fiction, and as source material The Inglorious Bastards favors cheesy action to dialogue. To update this material for sophisticated modern audiences, Tarantino will have his work cut out for him.

4 comments:

Ibetolis said...

I still wouldn't mind seeing this film despite your review, it sounds ideal for a crap film night.

I'm hoping Tarantino pulls this one out of the bag, his past couple of films have been disappointing and a return to form would be well received.

FDr said...

Yes, I agree. The film would be ideal for a crap film night. Tarantino's ability to see potential in old movies and TV shows may be what makes him such a fun director. I just wonder if his tastes are getting more boyish instead of maturing.

T.S. said...

Thanks for the review. I don't know why I was surprised to see a DVD review of Inglorious Bastards turn up in the New York Times recently, but there it was and there was my surprise.

I've never been a dyed-in-the-wool Tarantino fan, but I do find his draw to Inglorious Bastards interesting. As a fan of the war genre, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a modicum of curiosity in me regarding his remake. Still, I've never really been able to pin down my expectations of a Tarantino work, so who knows... (He's probably thrilled I said that, too.)

FDr said...

Thanks for the comment, T. S.

In Tarantino's defense, I teach Pulp Fiction every year. The students love it, and the film keeps rewarding close analysis. So I wish Tarantino well with Inglorious Bastards.