Men on a mission! Naked women shooting machine guns! Wildly inappropriate hair styles! The recent arrival of Enzo G. Castellari's The Inglorious Bastards on DVD makes clear that the movie is an entertaining, stylish adventure in its own right, justly deserving its reputation as a Eurocult genre gem. Inevitably, it also prompts speculation about what exactly Quentin Tarantino will do with his upcoming version, especially since the DVD features an extended conversation between Tarantino and Castellari about their respective visions.
The 1978 original doesn't have a "bat-wielding Nazi hunter," as one character has been recently described in casting talks for Tarantino's version, though it is set in World War II France. Miscreant Bo Svenson and murderer Fred Williamson are headed to military jail when their convoy is attacked by the Germans. The handful of surviving deserters plan to escape to neutral Switzerland before they end up on a suicide mission for the Allies under the command of Colonel Bruckner (Ian Bannen).
The men take a jaunty trip through a cartoon wonderland constructed out of Hollywood fantasy and Italian wish fulfillment. The film only rarely intersects with real life, instead inhabiting a world of wisecracks and world-weary warriors whose guns never run out of bullets. Castellari is such a brilliant director, though, that The Inglorious Bastards fairly pops off the screen with energetic fervor in nearly every sequence.
As such, it serves as a fabulous blueprint that Tarantino has probably drawn upon, ripped apart, and reassembled.
Running a taut 99 minutes, the original only has a few scenes of extended dialogue. One of them takes place in a barn and touches on racial issues, which sounds like it's right up Tarantino's alley. The rest of the film is filled with one-liners, offering many opportunities for Tarantino to insert his own brand of wit.
The original opening sequence is a straightforward introduction to the characters as they're gathered together in a military camp, but in the conversation that Tarantino has with Castellari on the DVD, Castellari says with genuine enthusiasm that he was very excited to read in Tarantino's script what he had planned for his first scene. It should be noted that Tarantino is not actually remaking Castellari's film, though he is borrowing the title and, one imagines, the basic plot, but I'm sure QT has many new and different adventures for his characters to embark upon.
Castellari also appeared to suggest that at least two female characters would have substantial roles in Tarantino's flick. The original has only one woman in a supporting role, a nurse played by the beautiful Debra Berger. (Sorry, boys, the naked machine gun-wielding women appear only briefly in the original.) That could add a welcome twist to the proceedings.
Svenson and Williamson oozed cocky, macho charisma, and Ian Bannen was a superb foil as a strait-laced Colonel, but a couple of the other actors were limited in their abilities, so Tarantino definitely has a chance to upgrade as far as the cast is concerned. (But, dang, in the interviews they give in the "making of" documentary, Svenson and especially Williamson still look quite capable of doing some serious damage.) Debra Berger is now the mother-in-law of the very lovely, sexy, and talented Olivia Wilde, so maybe QT can consider Wilde for one of the strong female roles.
Castellari imaginitively made The Inglorious Bastards on a small budget (look closely on the DVD and you can see the matte shots and miniatures) and had to overcome major obstacles during filming. He only had 10 vehicles and 30-40 extras at his disposal, for example, and had to keep moving them around the set so it looked like the screen was filled with people and machines. Even more challenging, midway through production the Italian government decided that prop guns could no longer be used on movie sets, so Castellari had to restage one entire, major action sequence without modern weapons -- resulting, as it happens, in one of the film's most memorable scenes -- and for the rest of the production, the actors had to make do with rifles made from balsa wood, fitted with a device to create sparks at the end of the barrel.
I don't think it will happen, but it might benefit Tarantino if he had to make do with a smaller budget and a tighter shooting schedule. Maybe that would inspire him to greater creativity.
The Inglorious Bastards (AKA Quel maledetto treno blindat, AKA Deadly Mission, AKA G.I. Bro, AKA Counterfeit Commanders, AKA Hell's Heroes) is available on DVD from Severin Films. The three-disk "explosive edition" includes an audio commentary by Castellari (moderated nicely by David Gregory), a 38-minute conversation with Tarantino and Castellari, the original theatrical trailer, a "making of" feature entitled "Train Kept a Rollin'" that runs 75 minutes and is quite comprehensive, "Back to the War Zone," a 13-minute piece in which Castellari re-visits the filming locations, and a CD with portions of the stirring original soundtrack by Francesco de Masi.