Film Reviews

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

By • Sep 2nd, 2009 •

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Cecil B DeMille once said his costume dramas were not history re-created, but history daydreamed. With INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, cinema’s favorite rule-smasher -Quentin Tarantino, takes DeMille’s quote to wonderfully insane new levels. The film’s finale represents what must have been the hopeful wishes of millions of Allied soldiers, Jews and Frenchmen towards the end of World War II.

Set in Nazi occupied France, the Inglorious Basterds are a ragged group of seven mostly Jewish Allied soldiers who have taken it upon themselves to go into “the Nazi killing business.” The Nazis they don’t kill (by very slow, painful, violent means) are left to survive with a gruesome “stamp” on their foreheads. The cool, southern-accented Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt putting on very deadly charm) leads the Basterds.

Like Tarantino films in the past, such as RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and KILL BILL, the first section of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is made up of seemingly unconnected chapters – unlinking stories that mesh together during the film’s second half. A young, Jewish, resourceful young beauty, Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) is the sole survivor of a Nazi attack on her entire family. She has inherited from her aunt, a modest-sized Paris movie theatre. Joseph Goebbels (Played by dead ringer Sylvester Groth) wants to use the theatre to premier the new film he produced that champions the exploits of a young Nazi sniper, Private Zoller (Daniel Bruhl). Zoller is quite smitten over the beautiful Shoshanna. Col. Hans Landa, a most discomforting charmer climbing the Nazi ladder, has his sites on Shoshanna as well. Christoph Waltz (who works mostly in German television) pours acid-dipped slime as Landa, and he is surely up for an Oscar. Anybody who is anybody in the Third Reich, including Adolf himself, is attending the premier. None of the Fuhrer’s buddies know that Shoshanna (and the Basterds) are plotting to burn down the theatre and trap all the Nazis inside.

Tarantino, the world’s most famous film-geek, makes his war epic a grab bag of delightful film references. Pitt’s character, Aldo Raine, is of course a play on Aldo Ray, one of Tarantino’s favorite tough guy actors from Hollywood’s past. (You may remember Ray from Anthony Mann’s GOD’S LITTLE ACRE and Raoul Walsh’s THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.) Raine’s group meeting with the Basterds recalls Lee Marvin’s meet -up with THE DIRTY DOZEN. Shosanna explains to Zoller why she makes sure Director G.W Pabst’s name is on her marquee: “Because in France we respect film directors.” Emil Jannings, the greatest actor to come from German silent cinema, is attending the premier. Tarantino’s characters constantly refer to KING KONG, David O. Selznick, and Leni Riefenstahl. The funniest reference comes when Shosanna explains to her projectionist how they will quickly start the fire that will barbeque the Nazis. She has endless shelves of nitrate-based 35mm movie film in her cinema vaults. Most films during and before World War II were printed on highly flammable nitrate-based film stock. Nitrate film was so unstable that it could even self-ignite. Deadly explosions in projection booths were common. Most studios and archives switched to acetate-based 35mm film (or “safety film”) around 1952. Tarantino has fun by stopping his story, and become a mini-documentary on nitrate film. He even runs a clip from Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE (where a bus driver explains to a young boy he can’t bring film reels onto a public vehicle.)

Playful as the film references are, they prove to be Tarantino’s worst enemy in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Even though this 153-minute History-Channel bumper car ride is devilish fun, some scenes play too long, and seem to exist just so Quentin can show how much fun he can have with film trivia and snappy dialog. Cutting the film by at least twenty minutes would have made this a Best Picture contender! The delights here include items that Tarantino shows, but refuses to explain (Why does Pitt’s Aldo Raine have a noose-scar around his neck?) Then of course, you have his re-writing history. If you make a movie about Abraham Lincoln, the rule is, stick to the story! Don’t make that “sic semper tyrannis” dude have a change of heart and become best pals with Abraham! But Tarantino messes with that rule big time, and it’s fun.

The Nazis were among the first film geeks. Hitler apparently loved THE GRAPES OF WRATH, SNOW WHITE, and KING KONG. Goebbels flipped over GONE WITH THE WIND and was obsessed with topping it! Unfortunately for Hitler and Goebbels, the cream of German cinema, talented people such as Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, and many more had fled to Hollywood once Hitler took power. Like Louis B. Meyer at MGM, Goebbels was the un-credited “boss” of many Nazi super productions. These films include MUNCHAUSEN, which has amazing special effects shot in bright, bold German-invented Agfacolor, a look Tarantino copies here, TITANIC, a silly, bigoted Nazi spin on the famed disaster, and the Napoleonic war epic KOLBERG. These films survive today and are testimony to Nazi movie-geekness. They are great to look at, but lack directorial and writing skill. It shows caliber of filmmaker who decided to stick around and work under Goebbels.

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One Response »

  1. The hanging scar on Aldo may have been a nod to the opener of The Dirty Dozen. If so, then QT is implying that Aldo himself may have been saved from execution to create the Basterds.

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