Judge Gordon Sullivan does it dirtier, especially when he's making mudpies!
Whatever the Dirty Dozen did, they do it dirtier!
I'd be remiss in my critical duties if I didn't mention that Inglorious Bastards is the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's long-rumored next project. In fact, this association was the main reason I wanted to see Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 war picture (whether you like Tarantino or not, his nose for older genre pictures is impeccable). Severin Films knew that I wasn't the only curious soul out there who would like to get their hands on a copy of the film, so they've unleashed a three-disc "Explosive Edition" of the film for eager fans of Italian cinema (and Quentin Tarantino). Just like the Inglorious Bastards of the title, this set delivers.
Facts of the Case
A gang of Allied prisoners (up for charges ranging from cowardice to theft) escapes while being transported to a detention center. While high-tailing it to the Swiss border, the group gets embroiled in an Allied mission to take out a German train containing an advanced rocket. Because they're responsible for taking out the original Allied team (although accidentally), the Inglorious Bastards take on the Nazi menace with their peculiar brand of fighting.
While a bunch of young punks were taking over Hollywood in the 1970s, the Italians were pumping out genre picture after genre picture, from giallo and western to war and cannibal flicks. The films were often made on shoestring budgets, but with numerous talented individuals with extensive experience. Thus did the cult of Italian cinema grow through grainy prints and bootleg VHS tapes. Then came DVD, and cinema fans the world over got to see what the hype was all about when it came to those fabled genre films. Predictably, a lot of crap got released, but there were enough diamonds in the rough to make the search worthwhile. One such film that lives up to its hype is Inglorious Bastards.
Taking its cue from genre classics like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape, Bastards presents us with a group of guys who have a very specific mission to accomplish. These guys include the stoic Lt. Yeager (Bo Svenson), the bad-ass Pvt. Canfield (Fred Williamson), and the Lothario (and Paul Newman ringer) Tony (Peter Hooten). Because they're all about to be carted away to military prison, these guys have a certain underdog charm. The audience is immediately involved in their fate as we see them under siege by German troops before they decide to cut and run for the Swiss border, avoiding military patrols as they go. The film doesn't really reveal its plot until almost an hour in, when we discover that the boys have accidentally foiled an Allied plan. From there, it's up to these misfits to do the right thing. A number of fist-fights, explosions, and gun battles punctuate the trip to the border. There's a brilliant (and slightly crazy) escape from a German camp, and it all ends with a thrilling train-bound battle.
And if that's not enough, there are bathing German women with machine guns along the way.
So, Inglorious Bastards is an action-fest with a compelling premise, well-drawn characters, and grit to spare. But we in DVD land have been disappointed before by great genre pictures with poor presentation. Happily, I can report that this is not the case with Inglorious Bastards. Somebody at Severin really cares. The video on this release looks fantastic. Yeah, the picture's a little washed out, but I suspect that's due to the "look" of the picture as much as anything else. There are no significant problems with grain or compression. Even the matte shots don't look too bad. The audio is mono, but dialogue is clear with no serious hiss or distortion. My only complaint about the presentation is the lack of English subtitles. The disc has subtitles, but they only kick on when someone is speaking a foreign language (and they can be turned off).
The extras, however, will be the real treat for genre fans. Disc One leads off with a commentary by director Enzo G. Castellari with moderation by David Gregory. It's not listed in the Special Features (or on the back of the case), so you'll have to find it in the audio menu. The commentary is informative, as Castellari takes to the medium easily. Gregory prompts him on specific details occasionally, but for the most part this is Castellari telling the story of the film's production. Also on the first disc is a conversation between Tarantino and Castellari. Much of it is Quentin gushing about the film, with Castellari nodding in appreciation. It's not a total waste for Castellari fans, but if you have an aversion to Tarantino, avoid this extra. Rounding out Disc One is the film's theatrical trailer.
Disc Two contains a pair of features. The first, "Train Kept a Rollin'" is a 70-minute documentary on the making of the picture. It features new on-camera interview with everyone from Castellari and Bo Svenson to special effects artist Gino de Rossi and screenwriter Laura Toscano. Every aspect of the production is covered, and the documentary is liberally sprinkled with clips. The other featurette follows Castellari on a contemporary tour of the locations used in Inglorious Bastards. Naturally he shares some insights into the locations and their effect on the movie.
The final extra is a CD containing the surviving music from Francesco De Masi. I don't know if it'll get much airtime on my stereo, but it's a nice addition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This flick is total testosterone overload. It's a boys' film that presents a pretty fantastic picture of war. Those raised on action films of a more recent vintage might find the limitations of this film quaint.
I enjoyed Inglorious Bastards quite a bit more than I expected to. Those new to Italian genre fare will need an open mind, but will likely be rewarded by this little war film. Those who've made their way through the great war pictures and need something new are especially encouraged to give this flick a shot. To those who have been slavering over this release for months (or even years), then your wait is over. This "Explosive Edition" offers an excellent audiovisual presentation and a host of informative extras.
They may do it dirty, but the Inglorious Bastards are not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
• Commentary with Director Enzo G. Castellari
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