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Kamis, 18 November 2010

Enzo G. Castellari - Quel maledetto treno blindato aka The Inglorious Bastards (1978)



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The Inglorious Bastards were just like the Dirty Dozen, only half as many and twice as badass. Once again, it's left to the Italians to take all that's awesome about a particular genre of American film (in this case, the "misfits on a mission" brand of war flick), and boil it all down to about 90 minutes of relentlessly violent action while amping up the vulgar touches that we come to crave from such fare.

Toss in the fact that we're in the capable hands of Walking Tall's Bo Svenson (well, the Walking Tall sequels anyway) and former pro football player Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, not to mention the guy who played Dr. Strange in a TV movie and Richard Basehart's son and the only way you could possibly screw this pooch was if the director couldn't keep up with all the macho action on display.

That's not a concern though, as the man leading the Inglorious Bastards on their misadventure through 1944 France is one Enzo G. Castellari! Enzo put The Hammer through his paces in the post-apocalyptic thriller, The New Barbarians. And if that wasn't enough, he was behind the camera for both Bronx Warriors and Bronx Warriors 2! Once you've seen those films and star Mark Gregory as Trash, you'll understand the talent Enzo has in coaxing great performances out of guys with really big perms who are decked out in headbands!

You can damn sure bet your Kraut-loving ass though that there aren't any headbands or big hair to be seen in the company of the Inglorious Bastards! One guy does have long hair, but that's just a testament to how long he's been in the stockade! And he was only the thief/forger of the group! While the lovable thief Nick worked his way into our hearts by stealing a superior officer's watch while being hauled away for court martial, the rest of the group had their charms as well.

The Hammer played a dude who killed a sergeant for looking at him wrong and threatened another one saying, "they can only shoot me once!" Dr. Strange shows up as a racist piece of trash who gets into it with Hammer while the Bastards are on the run. He makes vague allusions to working for some type of "Mr. Big" back in the States and pulls a switchblade on Hammer threatening to cut him in two during one of their altercations. Throw in the coward as well as their leader (Svenson) who's a pilot that was more interested in flying his fighter plane to London to see his girlfriend than bombing Jerry and you've got yourself the filthiest half-dozen imaginable!

Luckily for all involved, Svenson puts all that girlfriend stuff on the back burner for the duration of the movie, because he's all about killing as many Nazis as he can find. But here's the thing about Bo. Even when he's killing or being threatened with death himself, he always has a pleasant smile on his face and seems bemused by events. That's just the sort of cool-headedness that comes in handy when you're shooting Nazis with a crossbow while rescuing Hammer from a German-held castle. Of course, Hammer is no slouch in the murder department either and manages to get his hands on an ornamental battle axe and do some bone cracking with it during the big castle scene as well. I know you're probably thinking, "sure, that sounds fantacular, but I'm still not sold." That's cool. I hear you. Let me bring it on home for you then: They escape by sliding down a rope out of the castle's window down into an army truck below!

Based on that sequence alone, this movie doesn't have anything else to prove to anybody. But do think Enzo, Hammer, Walking Tall, Dr. Strange, and Richard Basehart's kid are even capable of taking their foot off the gas? This movie's so busy whipping tale, it doesn't even have time to get around to giving the Bastards their suicide mission until about half way through! And that first half isn't filler neither!

After an enemy ambush allows our gang to escape, they get themselves into all sorts of jams. At one point they even have a deserted German SS guy in their group! Every five minutes they're getting bombed or shot at or captured. Inevitably, this turns out bad for whoever is on the other end of things what with Hammer dumping piles of rubble on some Hapless Germans, Dr. Strange hiding a pistol in his pants and using it at an opportune time, and all the Bastards accidentally wiping out a bunch of their own men! Whoops! Those crazy Bastards!

It's this bit of friendly fire that leads the Bastards into their mission. It turns out the guys they killed were going to do the mission, but now Walking Tall figures he can leverage the situation to the Bastards' advantage by offering to have the Bastards do the mission if they have their various charges dropped. And what is this mission that has no chance of succeeding and every chance of getting all the Bastards dishonorably discharged straight to hell? An assault on a Nazi train carrying a prototype of the V-2 rocket! It's like Von Ryan's Express, but without the wimpy old farts!

The genius of a filmmaker like Enzo is that he knows what we expect and want when we hear there's going to be an attack on a Nazi train. You've got Bastards on board dressed as Krauts. You've got French partisans blowing up bridges. You've got guys jumping off of trains. You've got guys jumping onto trains from overpasses. You've got guys running on top of trains and leaping from car to car. You've even got a motorcycle jump as it blows through a German checkpoint! And when a guy tinkering with the rocket prototype says something about accidentally setting off the self-destruct mechanism, you instinctively know that Enzo is going to be blowing up some serious model railroads!

A lot of folks would want to get their cheesy model shots done as quickly as possible, but Enzo knows that anything worth doing cheaply is worth doing a lot! When the train finally blows, it's like ten nuclear bombs went off! All sort of models explode, there's fire everywhere, walls are caved in, dudes are aflame, and half of occupied France is covered in rubble! Enzo also compliments what is a surprisingly good looking film with stylistic touches all veterans of Italian cinema will easily recognize: slow motion death scenes and skinny dipping German girls shooting at the Bastards. I imagine that for Hammer, it's a toss up which is the more impressive accomplishment - being in the Super Bowl or being an Inglorious Bastard!

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