Not to be confused with Quentin Tarantino’s masterful slice of wartime lunacy (although he did steal and misspell the title as a tribute to this movie), this 1978 example of Italian war-sploitation was brought to us with the inimitable style of cult director Enzo G. Castellari – the man who made the awesomely camp 1990: The Bronx Warriors and was successfully sued by Spielberg for his shameless Jaws ripoff, The Last Shark.
However, if any of you noticeably clenched up at the sight of the phrase “War-sploitation”, I can assure you that it’s not to be confused with the far more grimy subgenre of Naziploitation, a selection of unfeasibly grim movies such as Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS that dealt with sexual perversion and torture.
No, in comparison, european war movies like The Inglorious Bastards had far more in common with such films as The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes where our men on a mission were the complete opposite of the sort of clean cut patriots seen in movies like The Guns Of Navarone. For a start, they’re usually far hornier…
France: 1944, and a selection of war criminals guilty of various nefarious deeds are sentenced to death and bundled onto a truck headed destined to a prisoner camp in the Ardennes. Among their number are Lieutenant Yeager who’s insubordination stretched from “borrowing” planes to fly over and see his girlfriend to refusing to execute orders to kill, young cowardly deserter Berle, moustachioed petty thief Colasanti, shifty mutineer Tony and burly murderer Fred and on their way to their final destination (in more ways than one) a handy straifing by the Luftwaffe means they escape and kill their sadistic guard.
Taking charge, Yeager suggests that the motley band get mobile and make a direct beeline to Switzerland until this whole war thing blows over and after some episodic exploits the group stumbles across Nazi deserter Adolf (not crazy about the name, there) and tentatively allow him to join their little band.
After a series of adventures that seems them infiltrate and kill a German patrol and take some time out to splash in a river with a random gaggle of naked fräuleins, these Inglorious Bastards find their luck isn’t quite so bullet proof after all when they find out that a German squad they enthusiastically drill full of bullets was actually a group of American soldier in disguise for a secret mission. Meeting up with the Resistance and being filled in by a slightly miffed Colonal Buckner, Yeager has no choice but to have his “platoon” take on the secret mission themselves. But before they can assault their target – an armored train carrying prototype V-2 missiles – they’ll have to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in order to rescue Fred who has found himself a reluctant occupant.
Can this troop of men who have spent most of their military career thus far proving they are as reliable as a chocolate teapot finally become actual war heroes? Remember, you can’t spell “Inglorious” without “glorious”- or something…
Anyone expecting a grueling, indictment of war along the lines of Sam Peckenpah’s harrowing Cross Of Iron might want to get their orders checked by a superior officer, as Inglorious Bastards has no other aspirations other than being a Nazi-killing romp that hopes to squeeze in as many explosions (and a little bit of boobies) as it can in an hour and a half. The movie’s plot is hopelessly derivative of that of The Dirty Dozen (did I not mention the director got his wrist slapped for copying Jaws) but with that 70’s, Italian twist to it that make almost every single one of our “heroes” edgey as fuck. Oh sure, Telly Savalas’ character in Dozen was a woman killing fruitcake, but everyone else was kind of decent in a flawed kind of way – most of the Bastards on the other hand would probably knife their own mothers if it meant one more day of shooting people and ogling smuggled porn and it’s this morals-free attitude that makes the movie so weirdly appealing.
It’s the sheer randomness of the plot for the first two thirds of the film that’s so off beat as the Bastards use their almost supernatural levels of natural teamwork to overcome any obstacle or problem as easily as playing an early Call Of Duty game on an easy setting. As they mow down acres of German soldiers while not so much as reloading or even aiming in some cases, it’s tough not to get caught up in the absurdly breezy nature of the film, especially when you have actors like that human battering ram, Fred Williamson, who treat the “war to end all wars” as something as a bit of a giggle. Watching “The Hammer” chomp on a mysteriously endless supply of cigars while flashing a smile and a wink as he kills more men than cancer, it makes you wonder with such a casually massive bodycount such as this, how on earth this movie justifies the war going on as long as it did. Joining the weapons grade charisma bomb that is Williamson is a stoic Bo Svenson and none other than the first ever on-screen Doctor Strange, Peter Hooten, who gjve their characters a sweaty, anti-hero charm as they random wander their way into a mission that could sway the course of the war.
It’s here that all the questionable playtime that the movie has indulged in actually pays off as the final mission (rousingly epic for a 1970’s exploitation/action movie from Italy) ends up being pretty damn exciting compared to the extraordinarily dangerous day-tripping of the first half as some of the seemingly immortal gang start finding out that some of their charmed lives they’ve been living is about to cash their chips during some of the breathless action. Featuring endless examples of stuntmen hurling themselves flamboyantly through the air in the wake of the latest of many explosions and moments where some of the actual actors perform some genuinely worrying stunts (watch Williamson literally jump from a bridge onto a moving train for real, while looking awesomely nonchalant while he does it) means that the aggressive action makes up in fun what it lacks in a sense of dignity for all those who gave their lives during the actual conflict.
Possibly one of the most adolescent war films ever made (and far better for it), The Inglorious Bastards enthusiastically has as little respect for authority as it’s five core characters (sweet fuck all, if you hadn’t been paying attention) and that might piss a few purists off, but as a bawdy alternative to more somber and cerebral fare, it’s a campy blast that loudly and brazenly suggests that maybe war isn’t hell after all – maybe its fucking awesome, especially when there’s plenty of bombs, bullets and boobs to go around.