The Inglorious Bastards (1978)
“Whatever the Dirty Dozen did they do it dirtier!”
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Cast: Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson
Synopsis: In 1944, in France, the rogue American soldiers Lieutenant Robert Yeager, Private Fred Canfield, the murderer Tony, the thief Nick and the coward Berle are transported to a military prison….
From the lurid opening titles there can be no mistaking the Italian origins of The Inglorious Bastards, a lukewarm war movie which received a shot in the arm thirty years after its initial release when Quentin Tarantino borrowed its title (but nothing else) for his own war movie, Inglourious Basterds. In fact, it would be no surprise to discover that Enzo G. Castellari’s movie earned more in its resurrected form from DVD revenue than it did upon its original release back in 1978. The Inglorious Bastards has a certain amount of energy and a ‘War Picture Library’ comic’s pleasure in its own violence, but unless you like watching movies with lots of explosions and good guys shooting at bad guys who don’t seem to have a clue how to aim a rifle, you’re really not going to take much away from The Inglorious Bastards.
The Bastards of the title aren’t a dozen, dirty or otherwise, but five US army prisoners. Not prisoners of war, mind you, but prisoners of their own army, found guilty of various misdemeanours from hijacking their own plane to visit their girlfriend to desertion. Chief amongst these shining examples of soldiery is Lt. Robert Yeager (Bo Svenson, who would have a part in Tarantino’s version) who, as the hijacker of that plane, is probably the smallest Bastard (although he does have an annoying habit of asking everyone how they’re feeling). Tony (Peter Hooten) is probably the biggest, having been found guilty of murder. In between them come burly Fred Canfield (Fred Williamson — Bucktown), light-fingered thief, Nick (Michael Pergolani), and cowardly deserter, Berle (Jackie Basehart).
When we meet these five they’re about to be transported to military prison in France, but their convoy is attacked by Germans on the way, and they make their escape, planning to make their way to neutral Switzerland where they can sit out the war in safety. En-route to the frontier they encounter a posse of naked female Nazi soldiers (as you do) frolicking in a river, and then a more dangerous German troop with whom they engage in a spot of gunplay. Having emerged from the skirmish victorious, the lads later discover that the troop was actually an undercover group of crack US soldiers parachuted behind enemy lines in order to steal the gyroscope from a German V2 warhead which is on board a heavily-guarded train. Now, while most Bastards would shrug their shoulders philosophically and hot-foot it for the border, our Bastards get an attack of conscience and volunteer to take the place of the men they slaughtered…
It’s fair to say that, while The Inglorious Bastards never becomes a great movie, it does at least get better as it goes along. And it definitely works better when the plot is driven by the action rather than the dialogue, which is of a badness that only foreign writers for whom English is a second language are capable of achieving. Characterisation is minimal, to say the least, but then The Inglorious Bastards is all about action, and director Enzo G. Castellari is noted for his abilities at staging action scenes, even if he’s sorely lacking in other areas. The movie is at least surprisingly accomplished for an Italian exploitation knock-off of big budget movies like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape, but it’s still a mystery why Tarantino is so enamoured of it. Then again, he seems to champion any obscure action movie no more than half-a-dozen people have seen, regardless of its quality…
(Reviewed 28th May 2014)