Right from the off you can guess Enzo Castellari’s “Dirty Dozen” rip off, “Inglorious Bastards,” was never going to win at the Oscars or even make it onto many people’s top ten WW2 movies list. But who needs those plaudits when you have Quentin Tarantino’s seal of approval and have his latest movie adopt virtually the same title?
The opening pop art credits feature silhouettes of German soldiers leaping to their deaths in true A-Team style. A train threatens to tear out of the screen and send the audiences running from the cinema just as they did in the silent era. The solid red, blues and blacks could be from the pages of 1970s British comics like Battle and War Picture Library, featuring the likes of Major Easy and The Rat Pack. This is boys own adventure, sexed-up Italian style, and the overblown score makes damn sure we know it.
In the grand tradition of Spaghetti Westerns, the Macaroni Combat sub genre went for maximum action, minimum cost, and a sprinkling of B-movie stars from America and Europe. “Inglorious Bastards” is no exception and the bullets fly thick and fast with Castellari racing from one set piece to another. The Nazis meet their ends like contestants in “Stricly Come Dancing” or Ronaldo diving for a penalty when no one is near him. If you look closely, you can even see the wires used to yank the stuntmen through the air after a grenade explodes nearby.
Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson head Castellari’s cast of renegade American soldiers trying to escape to neutral Switzerland late in the war. Svenson is flyboy Lt. Yeager, grounded after flying to London to see his girlfriend. Wearing his aviators constantly he looks like he should be in an episode of “Chips” rather than fighting Hitler. Williamson’s Canfield wears the greenest and cleanest Khak’s since Carl Weathers in “Predator” and his one-handed use of his MP40 is up there with John Wayne’s shotgun twirl in “True Grit.”
The rest of the squad are made up of a racist ex-gangster, a train-driving coward and a thief with so many gadgets and tools he would put Batman to shame. During their heavily dubbed odyssey they pick up a German deserter, get captured, escape, and bathe with ten naked babes with machine guns. Even Tarantino couldn’t write that one! In an outrageous plot twist, the Bastards massacre a group of American agents disguised as a German patrol and realising their error assume their identity to carry out the agents mission: steal part of the latest V2 rocket from a heavily guarded train.
Once aboard the train, Castellari’s tag as “The Poor Man’s Peckinpah” becomes apparent and somewhat deserved. His delicate cross cutting between his slow motion casualties immediately brings to mind “The Wild Bunch” and “Cross of Iron,” the latter a huge influence of the entire Macaroni sub genre. One shot in particular, a stick grenade smashing through a window, would be worthy of Bloody Sam himself. During this sequence, the random deaths of some of the Bastards actually achieve an unexpected level of pathos in what is essentially an exploitation flick.
“Inglorious Bastards” will never set the world alight. The acting is uneven and some of the model and effects work leaves a lot to be desired. Yet it does have an insane energy, the kind kids had when they played with their Action Men or shot at each other in the park during the Summer Holidays before “Call of Duty” came along and kept everyone bolted down in dark bedrooms. If you want to find out why Tarantino sings its praises, give it a try. If not, go and watch people play paint ball and you’ll get the idea.