See Tarantino's next movie right now (sort of)

Eager to catch the ultraviolent WWII shootout "Inglorious Bastards," loaded with blaxploitation beefcake and naked chicks? Come on over!

Published August 13, 2008 11:29AM (EDT)

Well, I've got a trail of broken-hearted DVD publicists behind me and a pile of unwatched discs on the bedroom floor, but herewith I'm renewing my vows to throw an oddball DVD-of-the-week at you at least, oh, every other week. Do you imagine Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards" as a half-campy, half-fatalistic violence-palooza with a racial subtext, plenty of cigar-chomping masculine humor and a brief interlude involving naked women frolicking in a swimming hole (with machine guns)? Well, you don't have to imagine it, because here it is.

OK, Tarantino didn't direct it, of course. And his long-contemplated and possibly forthcoming film, by all accounts, will borrow only the title and an off-the-shelf stock situation from Enzo G. Castellari's quasi-legendary 1978 Eurocult classic "The Inglorious Bastards," which brought together "Walking Tall" star Bo Svenson, blaxploitation legend Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and a whole bunch of Italian extras playing German cannon fodder. But hey, Quentin's here anyway (on one of his weirder hair days, it must be said), conducting a lengthy and enthusiastic discussion with Castellari that might be the most entertaining element of this three-disc special edition from Severin Films, the self-appointed "Criterion Collection of smut."

Mind you, Castellari's movie goes down pretty easy, especially if you grew up watching 1970s grindhouse flicks the way Tarantino did and can get a Proustian biscuit-high off its weird blend of cheapness and spectacle. But as my better half observed, the difference between "Inglorious Bastards" and "Hogan's Heroes" largely comes down to dubbed dialogue, curse-words, tits (seen exceptionally briefly in the aforementioned mädchen-out-of-uniform scene) and the unarticulated racial anxiety the film expresses every time Williamson appears on screen in his Angry Black Soldier role, a large, unlit brown cigar clenched in his teeth. As ever, the former NFL player has an impressive bod and a certain screen charisma, along with a remarkable inability to read his lines convincingly. Next to him, Svenson (a onetime UCLA Ph.D. candidate) comes off as a veritable Max von Sydow, speaking fluent German, cracking mordant jokes and generally expressing the pain of manhood and, yea, of humankind. Both of them get to shoot a whole lot of those Italian-German extras, who always die by jumping in the air and twisting vigorously in a counterclockwise motion.

Does anybody actually care about the plot? I hope not, because it's not that easy to follow. Svenson and Williamson play the de facto leaders of a gang of American ne'er-do-wells, on their way to court martials in 1944 France. Along with a handful of other stock characters (the thief, the racist, the coward) they escape amid a firefight and freelance their way across Europe, hoping to get to Switzerland but unable to resist volunteering for a suicide mission behind German lines. There's a dandy escape from a Nazi officer's castle, a bewildering shootout involving two groups of Americans in German uniforms and a massive train explosion, obviously shot using a model train. Did I mention the brief and completely incongruous scene involving some bathing beauties au naturel? The set also includes a making-of documentary, a locations featurette and an entire CD of soundtrack music, along with the highly enjoyable Castellari-Tarantino confab.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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