With the recent success of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II-set epic Inglorious Basterds, it was time to look into one of the big influences behind Tarantino’s hit, this Italian-made internationally cast feature directed by Enzo G. Castellari, which like Tarantino’s version, is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II in 1944.
The “bastards” in this film are a group of G.I. renegades who are on their way to be sent to military prison for a series of various crimes. They include Lt. Robert Yeager, Pvt. Fred Canfield, playboy wannabe Tony, the shy Berle, and the long haired reckless Nick. On their way to the prison, they get themselves in the middle of crossfire between the Nazi regime and the American military. They escape and soon find themselves accepting a mission to join a French underground movement to retrieve a nuclear warhead.
Originally film in 1978, the film earned its not most popular title upon its theatrical release in 1981. With Fred Williamson’s participation, the film had undergone title changes such as Deadly Mission and G.I. Bro to name a few. However, this can be said to be a routine Italian-made World War II-set flick that from looking at it, brings a sort of spaghetti western feel to the story.
Despite its production value and now official cult classic status, the actors looked like they were having a grand ol’ time, notably Bo Svenson as leader Robert Yeager. Svenson, perhaps best known before this film as the replacement for Joe Don Baker in Part 2 Walking Tall, plays Yeager as the true ringleader of the gang, even going so far as disguising himself as a top German officer after they take one prison, with the ability to speak German and all.
Fred Williamson brings his hard boiled hero from the blaxploitation days to this film as the only African-American member of the team. He goes about taking nothing from no one and lets them know that. Peter Hooten, who would go on to play Marvel superhero Dr. Strange in a very bad TV-movie, is Tony, who brings an arrogant nature but has strong feelings when it comes to a French resistance member and nurse Nicole. Nick is the long haired, moustached member of the team who has a shear sense of recklessness while Berle is the quiet member of the team who hopes to make it alive through the ordeal.
Come to think of it, this film can be said to have been or not have been an influence not only for Tarantino. From the foremanner of the “bastards”, it can be said that maybe Stephen J. Cannell came across this movie as an influence for his 1980’s hit television series The A-Team (which in turn, had a big-screen adaptation in 2010). Yeager is the John “Hannibal” Smith of the group, Canfield is B.A. Baracus, Tony is Templeton “Faceman” Peck, and combine the characters of Berle and Nick and you have “Mad Dog” Murdock. Seeing this film, it all quite makes sense.
The stunts for the film are quite interesting for its time. Stunt coordinator Rocco Lerro did quite a job handling the stuntwork for the actors, most of whom performed their own stunts, notably when they make their way out of a Nazi-occupied castle through a zipline. However, the piece de resistance of the stunts comes in a nicely shot and edited three to four-minute segment in which major crossfire ensues and members of both factions are shot or flying from the impact of grenades. The climax of the film truly brings that spaghetti western feel to a close and one would never expect how the film ends, but it is quite a way to end a film of this caliber.
While it never gained a huge following in its initial release, there is a good chance that Enzo G. Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards will soon get a new generation of viewers thanks to its influence on Quentin Tarantino and even possibly, Stephen J. Cannell.
WFG RATING: B+
A Film Concorde s.r.l. production. Director: Enzo G. Castellari. Producer: Roberto Sbarigia. Writers: Sandro Continenza, Sergio Greico, Romanco Migliorini, Laura Toscano, Franco Marotta. Cinematography: Giovanni Bergamini. Editing: Gianfranco Amicucci.
Cast: Bo Svenson, Fred Williamson, Peter Hooten, Michael Pergolani, Jackie Basehart, Michel Constanin, Debra Berger, Raimund Harmstorf, Ian Bannen, Flvio Andreini, Peter Boom, Vito Fornari, Manfred Freyberger.