We all know that Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds has little to do with Enzo G. Castellari’s original 1978 warsploitation artifact besides the setting and the (purposely misspelled) title [update: I review Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, here], but who cares? This violent knock-off of The Dirty Dozen and other “impossible mission / war caper” thrillers is great fun and now it’s out on Blu-ray, which is surely more respect than anyone involved with this energetic Italian knock-off ever expected. Check out the new trailer for the original film:
The premise is pretty simple: A bunch of American soldiers in 1944 France, up for court martial and on their way to military prison, escape during a German attack on their convoy and head off for Switzerland. They’re a colorful group: a decorated flier (Bo Svenson) with a tendency to go AWOL to visit his girlfriend in London, a black private (Fred Williamson) charged with murder (he killed his redneck superior officer, or so he says to another racist in an American uniform), a deserter coward (Michael Pergolani), a scavenger (Jackie Basehart) with hippie looks and a slightly Italian accent, and the joker misanthrope (Peter Hooten) who screws with everyone out of sheer cussedness.
It would be inappropriate to reveal Castellari’s most inspired twist, but suffice it to say that a combination of shame and responsibility and the last vestiges of honor and obligation land them in a suicide mission behind enemy lines. It’s a platoon thriller laced with the anti-hero cynicism of spaghetti westerns and the lurid violence of the post-Wild Bunch era and guided by the box-office instincts of exploitation filmmaking. In what other World War II caper film can you see the lost platoon stumble upon skinning dipping German babes, and then discover that these sex kittens come armed with machine guns? The mix of Italian genre violence and exploitation twists gives it a punchy energy, the script swings between unlikely stunts and gritty gunplay and Castellari keeps it marching ahead at double-time.
Severin’s Blu-ray includes all the previously released DVD features. The spotlight supplement is an interview with Enzo G. Castellari conducted by Quentin Tarantino, or more accurately a conversation between fellow directors, one of whom happens to be the biggest fanboy behind a camera. Tarantino manages to dominate the video interview and is, frankly, the more interesting of the two, but he does get Castellari to talk about his work in some detail. Train Kept a Rollin’ is a terrific feature length retrospective documentary that gathers stars Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson, producer Roberto Sbarigia, screenwriter Laura Toscano and director Enzo G. Castellari (among others) to chart the making of the film, but it’s what isn’t spoken that’s most interesting, notably the tensions between Williamson and Svenson (and, as far as that goes, Castellari and Svenson). Williamson shows just what a cagey businessman he was and still is as he talks about the film as an opportunity to extend his reach into the European market. “In American I was a black actor,” he observes. “In Europe, I was an action star.” There’s also commentary by Castellari with moderator David Gregory (who keeps the commentary track a rollin’) and a featurette with Castellari revisiting the shooting locations.
New to the Blu-ray are two exclusive featurettes: Inglorious Reunion at the New Beverly, featuring Castelleri, Svenson and Williamson at a special screening of the film in 2008, and video footage of Enzo’s 70th Birthday Celebration in L.A., also from 2008. Williamson is more congenial toward Svenson by now but he still dominates both, thanks to his outsized personality (and his gift for self-promotion). And watch for his tribute to another cult master at the New Beverly featurette when he introduces director/writer/American indie maverick Larry Cohen in the audience..