Last year, Quentin Tarantino gave audiences a taste of his many influences by programming a two-month all-you-can-stand grindhouse buffet at Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema. Missing from that 53-movie survey was “Inglorious Bastards,” the macaroni combat classic that inspired Tarantino’s forthcoming WWII opus of the same name. To the rescue comes niche distributor Severin Films, the self-christened “Criterion of smut,” with this three-disc restoration of the 1978 Enzo G. Castellari pic.
Like so many Italian-made action movies of its era, “Inglorious Bastards” has been butchered and repackaged multiple times, most memorably under the blaxploitation moniker “G.I. Bro.” In a half-hour bonus interview, Tarantino remembers first reading about it in the pages of Variety: “We loved the name so much that at a certain point in time whenever we talked about the genre, a bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission movie, we just started referring to them as ‘inglorious bastards.’ ”
Castellari was a sort of Tarantino precursor. He cherry-picked his favorite stars (Fred Williamson was a first choice and Bo Svenson proved a fortunate upgrade when Burt Lancaster declined) and dropped them into a plot that openly cribbed from popular American films.
The basic premise of “Inglorious Bastards” is five incarcerated G.I.s caught behind enemy lines who attempt a deadly suicide mission, their sacrifice rendered in slow-motion bloodbaths reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s “Cross of Iron.”It might not be the freshest material, but Castellari brings low-budget ingenuity to the project.
In the hour-plus making-of featurette on disc two, skip past the first 40 minutes of rusty remembrances to get to how special effects guru Gino “Bombardone” De Rossi built balsa-wood artillery after the Italian police confiscated the production’s dummy guns. (Also good: behind-the-scenes footage of the explosive bridge and train station set pieces.) According to De Rossi, the film called for more than 450 pounds of gunpowder, which explains how pyrotechnics remained fresh even as the military vehicles and stuntmen were recycled from shot to shot.
Both Williamson and Svenson participate in the look-back docu. The former explains how he built his personal fortune by retaining his films’ overseas rights: “My foreign market is much bigger than my U.S. market because in America, I’m a black actor, and in the Europe market, I’m an action star.”
Svenson is bittersweet about the experience, explaining how his career suffered from such roles: “I did too many Italian movies to be a viable commodity in Hollywood.”
But the main attraction is certainly the dynamic between Tarantino and Castellari, mutually starstruck as the younger director teases his next feature (“I realized it’s like two movies, and so the first one is what I’m doing now”) and debates whether to co-opt his idol’s love for slow-motion action sequences.