A full range of involuntary facial-muscle responses have already been triggered by the trailer to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which premieres at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. First 2008's Valkyrie, now this: Brad Pitt's Tennessee-hills-bred Lt. Aldo Raine twangily informing his Jewish-American Secret Service unit, "Each man under my command owes me ONE HUNNERD NAAATSEE SCALPS!" while Hostel auteur-turned-actor Eli Roth smirks in approval.
Will the whole turn out righteous, raucous, controversial, or just juvenile? We proles will have to wait until the film's August theatrical release to decide for ourselves. Meanwhile, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is letting inquiring minds do their advance homework by reviving Enzo G. Castellari's less orthographically challenged Inglorious Bastards, the 1978 Italian action movie Tarantino's latest pays tribute to though his isn't a remake but a separate, newly crassed-up riff on The Dirty Dozen (1967).
That latter all-star World War II caper spawned umpteen "Europudding" imitations, including the QT-beloved Bastards, showing this week in a new 35mm print. A sort of Filthy Five to the original Dozen budget reduced accordingly, with sharp eyes ID'ing the same extras experiencing different death throes in scene after scene it centers on a quintet of U.S. Army grunts in 1944 France.
There's Bo Svenson (who'd become a sorta-star by replacing the suspiciously car-crash-slain Buford Pusser in 1975's Walking Tall Part II) as swaggering Lt. Yeager; Fred Williamson's Pvt. Canfield, an incongruous 1940s fount of '70s Black Power 'tude; smirking wiseass, murderer, and racist Tony (Peter Hooten), who calls Canfield "Bongo;" Nick (Michael Pergolani), a long-haired hipster aping Donald Sutherland's similar character in 1970's hit Dirty rip Hell's Heroes; and Jackie Basehart as fraidycat youth Berle.
After being sent to the brig for various misdeeds, they escape their captors, intending to flee to neutral Switzerland. En route they pick up a nice Nazi (Raimund Harmstorf, horny hero of 1971's The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried) and bare collective musculature to some bathing Rhine maidens. But mostly they machine-gun everyone in sight, unfortunately including Yankee spies disguised in Third Reich uniforms.
Penitent, our protagonists vow to take over their late comrades' dangerous mission. This culminates in an exploded train, and an SS commander foaming "All Americans are mongrels! Negro, Jew, Polish, Italian, Irish every possible race! And your vimmen are whores! Coca-Cola! Hollyvood! Chewing gum! Stupid cowardly bastards!" just before his ass is whupped by Canfield. Musta been that soda remark.
Inglorious begins with psychedelic-silhouette images underlining two key things about Castellari: 1) he honed his energetic macho action style in spaghetti westerns; and 2) he isn't considered "the poor man's Peckinpah" for nothing, being absolutely addicted to balletic slow-mo violence. About a bazillion Germans here do the spastic dance of death, riddled by bullets or leaping from yet another explosion.
Yet the film's tone is larky, at times even goofy. Hardly a neglected masterpiece, or a campy delight like some of Tarantino's other retro faves, it's a good example of another era's disposable entertainment. Unlike the grim check-cashing air emitted by many similar Europudding exercises, here you can sense the fun that went into making it.
His big-screen career of Westerns, policiers, Mad Max and Escape from New York clones eventually tapped out, Castellari moved on to TV work. But at age 70, Castellari is still capable of rising to the exploitable moment.