1978; directed by Enzo G. Castellari; written by Sandro Continenza, Sergio Grieco, Franco Marotta, Romano Migliorini, Alberto Piferi and Laura Toscano; 99 mins
The more I watched Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the more the cracks showed. First time, it was great, fifth or sixth time… not so. Firstly, the long stretches of tedious discourse on movies (symptomatic of the many issues with his worst film, Death Proof) and the variable performances (I like Brad Pitt but Aldo Raine is pretty ropey and Eli Roth is fucking shit in it). Secondly – and possibly more importantly – this seemed to be at the nadir of his appropriation of other people’s work. He has always been a pastiche-y director and loves to reference other directors’ work and that’s fine. Shitloads of filmmakers have done it plenty of times before and don’t get half the the flack he does but there was a period in the 2000s where Tarantino just seemed to be lifting whole bits out of other movies (Lady Snowblood for Kill Bill Vol. 1 to name a more prominent one). With Inglourious Basterds, he lifted title and large chunks of plot from this film (original Italian title: Quel maledetto treno blindato or That Damned Armoured Train). While not as technically well made as Tarantino’s film, Keoma helmer, Castellari‘s warsploitation flick is leaner, meaner and manages to say more about World War II than it’s Hollywood counterpart. Surprisingly epic for an Italian exploitation movie, the sheer size of it is kind of a joy. Not only do we see columns of tanks and soldiers and bridges being blown up but also a hell of a lot of people getting entertainingly murdered in that proper off-hand, uncaring way of so many gung-ho, old war movies!
In the same vein as The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes, the film sets in motion a bunch of cut-throats and thieves on a do-or-die mission behind enemy lines and it follows all the usual beats of a gunfight every five minutes and the requisite amount of tits and fanny. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel at all but it passes 100 immoral minutes perfectly well. Fred Williamson is great value as Pvt. Canfield (he’s a very underrated movie star – apparently there was a re-edited version distributed, called G.I. Bro, which makes Canfield the central character!) and the other performances bring us along on the adventure.
What is great fun, is seeing pretty hairy stunts being performed by the actors; you don’t necessarily think about it but all the action playing out on top of the moving train is being done for real! Note the scene where Williamson gets off the bridge onto the train whic is passing underneath – that’s him! Brilliant!
It ends on an odd note, though, when Tony is the only one to survive and gets the girl. This doesn’t make a lot of sense because from what we gather, Tony is the unsalvageable, totally amoral prick of the bunch but by the end gets Nicole, whom he stole from lovestruck Berle. This is given to us as an unironic happy ending which, if intentional, just seems like a kick in the teeth. It’s like the end of Theatre of Blood when the critic you most want to die – doesn’t. Maybe I missed something but it seemed that the loveable rogues died and the genuine arsehole survived. Now, that would be fine as a bleak joke but where was the set-up? Odd.