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The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

by on 2010/11/02

At a time when pop culture seemed intent on killing the war and western genres, I have my parents to thank for getting me hooked, even if I might not have realized (or appreciated) it at the time.  But for all the Dirty Dozens, Great Escapes, and Guns of Navarones, there are still The Inglorious Bastards which I never knew existed.  Props must go to Quentin Tarantino for his superlative parenting skills, if not for his inglourious spelink.

The titular Bastards are a group of five alleged “deserters, cutthroats, and thieves” who escape a court martial early in the story.  (To be fair they seem less menacing than the MPs overseeing them.)  Among the escapees are a scrounger, a mechanic, a tough guy, a lunatic, and a leader.  Sound vaguely familiar?  This Ur-Team sets out for Switzerland, a 160-kilometer trip.  On the way, they encounter enemy soldiers, bathing beauties, and resistance fighters aplenty.  Will they make it to safe haven with their ingloriousness intact?

Like the group itself, the production is a strange clash of rough and effective.  To study any weakness is to find a corresponding strength.  Slipshod values lend a certain charm:  the rotoscopic credit sequence, the poorly-dubbed dialogue, and the unconvincing model work.  All are executed with a haphazard simplicity that could as easily be its confidence as incompetence.

This dichotomy plays out in other aspects too.  The movie both suffers and benefits from the casting of (mostly) unknowns.  The lack of distraction is useful, but only to a limited degree.  While the cast is convincing in their accents and stunts, their performances . . . well, let’s just say I thought I’d seen overacting before.  Now we need a new, stronger word for it.

For what it is, it’s entertaining.  On one hand, it conveys an overwhelming wartime chaos:  acquisitiveness and incontinence, psychosis and weariness, betrayal and loyalty, and a surplus of death and destruction.  On the other hand, it’s a chest-thumping, ass-kicking, howling-commandos adventure.  Which is fair enough, provided you can pardon its sin of flagging in the tale’s final stretch.  Overall, though, and in the words of one of its misfits, The Inglorious Bastards is “Jesus H. Great!”

* * *

Not rated, but contains coarse language, nudity, and violence

100 minutes

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