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August 19, 2015

THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Inglorious BastardsEnzo G. Castellari’s low-budget war fantasy brazenly borrows from Robert Aldrich’s “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), whose novel was based on real wartime events. Like “Dozen,” “Inglorious Bastards” follows a group of U.S. soldier/convicts turned loose on a war mission to bring down Nazi forces. Unlike “The Dirty Dozen,” this film’s screenwriters push the genre’s playful action-for-action’s-sake reality far into the realm of exploitation. Call it a “Spaghetti War” movie. Every veneer of realism is thrown out the window. This is the kind of fantasy war concept that Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux drew upon to write their hilarious war spoof “Tropic Thunder.”

“The Inglorious Bastards” has a cinematic cultural mission too; it resonates against stylized aspects of “Dirty Dozen” that may have been taken too literally or too seriously relative to its historic authenticity at the time of its release.

This film’s outrageous title tells the audience not to expect realistic depictions of war. “Bastards” is popcorn entertainment from the days when people used to yell stuff back at the big screen while smoking pot in a dingy cinema on 42nd Street. The film’s combat element functions as an active narrative canvas upon which its clearly drawn alpha-male characters spring into action. It’s all about soaking up the characteristic macho personalities on display.

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Our heroes are a bunch of scumbags (read: intelligent freethinkers). A flash of racist attitudes is addressed and dismissed in one fell swoop. Casting is everything to this movie. Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson, Jackie Basehart, and Michael Pergolani make up a fascinating troupe of misfit soldiers. You can’t tell if Williamson is having more fun than Svenson, or the other way around. Both men are physically larger-than-life to begin with, but their obvious enjoyment, of pretending to shoot hordes of Nazi soldiers while not getting blown away themselves, gives the picture a kick. Williamson and Svenson perform most of their own stunts during frequent episodes of violent World War II-era spectacle involving, for example, moving trains.

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Fred Williamson played pro football for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders before turning to a prolific acting career during the 1970s and 1980s. His cigar-chomping Private Fred Canfield is a boilerplate example of blaxploitation-comes-to-warsploitation. Wearing his handsome trademark mustache Williamson’s surefire charisma makes the movie burn. Williamson’s casting brings with it a connection to blaxploitation from his portrayal of freelance mobster Tommy Gibbs in Larry Cohen’s urban super-action gem “Black Caesar.”

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Bo Svenson adds considerably as a delightful Slavic father-figure badass who benevolently participates in the intrigue and gun-firing action at hand. The film’s episodic plot is nothing more than an excuse to watch “our guys” engage in explosive gun battles against Nazis, and a few Americans. Ridiculously, the band of soldiers is reduced to using slingshots and spears during an especially comical sequence set inside a Nazi- occupied mountaintop castle.

Inaccurate credit has been given to Quentin Tarantino for “remaking” “The Inglorious Bastards,” but that’s not correct; as anyone who has seen both films can attest. Tarantino brilliantly incorporated stylistic and dramatic influences from Enzo G. Castellari’s movie, while creating a thoroughly original story that fleshes out a broader palate of human perspective while delivering more editorial inertia and hilariously grotesque political humor. Tarantino also gets degree-of-difficulty points for mastering an overlooked genre to make a modern masterpiece called “Inglorious Basterds.”

Rated R. 99 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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