Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movie #4: Inglorious Bastards (1978)

When I was a kid more often that not you would find my Sunday mornings spent curled up on the couch with my father watching WWOR 9, a local television station that would specialize in kung-fu and war films from the 60's and 70's. INGLORIOUS BASTARDS feels like a taste of all those afternoons, bringing back the dust slowly falling in between the slats of light from the shades and the icy wetness on my head whenever my father would play around and use my head as a coaster for his beer.

Considered a classic "Euro-Cult" film, it's essentially a lower-budget Italian DIRTY DOZEN, about a group of WWII allied war criminals who are hit by an enemy air strike while being transported to prison. Taking advantage of their predicament they initially make plans to run off and make their way to the Swiss border, but their plans are foiled once they mistakenly kill a disguised American strike force and are involuntarily "volunteered" to take their place on a dangerous mission deep within Nazi territory.

Everything is done on the cheap, but director Enzo G. Castellari knows his way around a film, and shoots everything with an enthusiasm and a skill that rises above the constraints placed by the budget. The use of hand-held cameras following the action bring an immediacy and excitement to the big set pieces and is assisted by the gorgeous Italian location shooting. Castles, waterfalls, small towns and open fields make up the majority of the set dressing, and Castellari knows where to put his camera to make the most of things.

Another wise choice is in the choice international casting, featuring Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson in the lead roles. There's a immediate charm and camaraderie evident when everyone's together. Svenson is saddled with the leader role, and the one criminal who's not really a bastard (he's being court-martialed for using his airplane as a taxi to see his girlfriend one too many times), but he's engaging and honest while also being as hard as he has to keep his "men" in line and get them to safety. Williamson, though, is the real prize - he's in incredible shape in the movie and gets the best of the camera every time, even mugging to the audience after one action sequence. Plus it's hysterical when they have to try to convince the French Resistance how Williamson could possibly pass himself off as a Nazi. A lot of this is due to the script, which is pretty tight and has as its core a solid high concept for a story. Although the idea of a gang of criminals taking on the bad guys has been done before, never does INGLORIOUS BASTARDS feel like a knock-off of more successful war films.

As Svenson leads his motley crew of criminals from one situation to the next the INGLORIOUS BASTARDS lights up in a way that only the most bad-ass films can. Crossbows are fired, people jump in the air and do somersaults just before shooting, a halberd is almost used a weapon. And yes, there is a sneaky Italian thief who manages to hides an entire tool set in his clothes and goes mad for a group of naked German women who just "happen" to be splashing around naked in a lake.

Sure, it's that's kind of movie. And yes, you can see the strings sometimes when an explosion goes off and a soldier "flies" into the air. But INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is just too damn fun and too finely made to really care about any of that stuff.

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