THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978) - 3 Disc Explosive Edition
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Severin Films

Shortly after JACKIE BROWN’s theatrical release, director Quentin Tarantino announced his intention to film an epic scale World War II feature in the tradition of Robert Aldrich‘s THE DIRTY DOZEN. While Tarantino sidelined this project in lue of shooting KILL BILL, he never gave up on the idea and, 10 years later, has recently begun shopping his story around to several major studios. Taking the title INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, Quentin’s decision to move forward with his “men on a mission” opus could not have come at a better time for Severin Films, as his announcement coincides with their strongest release to date. Working with original vault elements, Severin Films has compiled an impressive package for an action packed film that provided Quentin with both inspiration and a title.

In 1944 France, a collection of prisoners are to be transported from a military base close to the Swiss border to a prison where they will be tried and court-martialed. The convicts are accompanied by Lieutenant Robert Yeager (Bo Svenson, WALKING TALL 2 & 3). Their personalities are varied, as are their crimes, but the group quickly bands together finding common ground in their aversion toward authority. While being escorted, the group is attacked by a German squadron, providing a perfect opportunity for several of them to escape. When the smoke clears, only a handful of men remain standing and under the direction of Lieutenant Yeager, those left agree to work together in finding their way to Switzerland’s neutral borders. Grudgingly, the troop finds itself entangled in a number of gun battles, despite their desire to stay clear of such conflicts, eventually finding cover in an abandoned farm house. The group can barely finish their rations when Pvt. Canfield (Fred Williamson, BLACK CAESAR) captures a German solider (Raimund Harmstorf) found hiding in the rafters. While privates Tony (Peter Hooten, ORCA) and Nick (Michael Pergolani) are quick to suggest that they execute the deserter, Lt.Yeager prevents any such actions, making a deal with the German to guide them safely to the Swiss border.

Coming across a river, the group breaks to catch their breath and cool off, only to discover that just past the hill is a collection of German maidens skinny dipping. Eagerly jumping into the aquatic festivities, the men are forced to quickly retreat when Private Canfield’s clearly American presence alarms the girls who just happen to be heavily armed. On their way to the border, the group witnesses their German guide gun downed by an apparent Allied patrol. Killing the German company, the convicts find themselves in an even deeper predicament when they discover that the squadron was in fact comprised of undercover Americans in league with the French resistance. Striking a deal with American Colonial Charles Buckner (Ian Bannen, DOOMWATCH) that will exonerate them of all their charges, the group agrees to take the places of the slayed undercover soldiers, on a mission to steal the Nazi's most recent deadly creation.

Italian director Enzo Castellari has tried his hand at a variety of genres; westerns, crime dramas, post apocalyptic, but the one common element that stands out throughout his filmography is his masterful ability to shoot action. BASTARDS is no exception, as the film is peppered from beginning to end with violent shootouts, daring escapes and fiery explosions. While the film's plot is nothing new (THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE SECRET INVASION, both filmed a decade earlier, come to mind), its approach is considerably freer and loose. Its pace is confident and steady, stopping only momentarily to allow you to catch your breath and slip in a laugh before jumping headlong back into battle. Throwing historical accuracy out the window, BASTARDS' focus is to entertain above all else, a goal which Castellari reaches and surpasses.

Bo Svenson receives top billing as Lt. Robert Yeager, a stoic, dry-witted solider who steps into the role of platoon leader with great ease. His performance however falls to the side next to co-star Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson as Pvt. Fred Canfield, who steals the picture as a cigar chomping bad ass who never hesitates to stand up for the little guy. Pretty much playing himself, Fred manages to add a personal touch to almost every scene and obviously impressed Castellari as he would cast him again in THE NEW BARBARIANS and 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS. Both Fred and Bo perform the majority of their own stunts, but where as Fred does so with a noticeable amount of style and charisma, Bo just appears to be simply trying hard enough to not be overshadowed by his co-stars. Michael Pergolani's portrayal of the resourceful, longhaired Nick provides the film with the majority of its comedic relief and impressively so considering this was his first acting gig. Jackie Basehart’s take on the gutless Berle is thankfully short on screen time and Peter Hooten’s Tony is a flat out asshole. My only gripe with the film itself is that I was a little displeased that Tony’s eventual fate wasn’t bloodier. The casting of Ian Bannen as Col. Buckner seems a little strange considering he is about two feet shorter than the majority of his cast mates, but he pulls it off and appears to be having fun with the role, as does the majority of the cast.

Released on Home Video as DEADLY MISSION from Avid Video and G.I. BRO from Xenon, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS has finally been upgraded to DVD with the help of Severin Films in a presentation that in all probability is their best to date. Offered in an anamorphic widescreen transfer that maintains the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the source print must have been spotless as there is not a trace of any blemish or fault throughout the film's running time. An amazing improvement in comparison to the numerous grey market bootlegs that grew in popularity after Quentin Tarantino first began to sing the film's praises some 10 years ago. Fleshtones are precise and sharp with detail overall notably crisp. Dolby Digital mono audio is equally clear with explosions, gunfire and a percussion driven score pounding strong and steady throughout the film, but never overpowering its English language dub track. Dialogue spoken in French and German is subtitled, and while there is no subtitle menu, this track can be toggled on and off as desired.

Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, “A conversation with Quentin Tarantino and Enzo G. Castellari” is a peak into the minds of the two filmmakers as they discuss not only BASTARDS but the techniques and motivations of directing in general. At one point Tarantino brings up Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON, released a year prior in ’77, inquiring as to how the film influenced Enzo’s use of slow motion photography. The conversation subsequently grows more in depth as the two dissect the pros and cons of shooting action at varying speeds. While Tarantino dominates the majority of the conversation, his obvious admiration of Castellari is rather endearing. Likewise, it appears that Enzo is more interested in hearing about Quentin’s next film, than in discussing his own. Tarantino does discuss a number of ideas in regards to his next feature, dropping enough information to imply that his next project will be an original script, molded around the same "men on a mission" narrative as INGLORIOUS BASTARDS and THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Director Enzo G. Castellari is also featured on an optional audio commentary track which can be selected on disc one's Audio Selection screen. While he does stumble to find the correct wording often, Castellari’s English is quite good and his memory of the film's casting and shoot is still vivid. While a director’s commentary is always a welcomed addition, it should be noted that most of the anecdotes discussed are covered, often in greater detail along side corresponding visuals, on the documentary found on disc two of the “Explosive Edition”. BASTARDS' original theatrical trailer rounds out disc one's extras, but play around with your DVD remote before switching over to disc two to uncover an Easter egg hidden (in plain sight) on the main menu screen.

Released as both a single disc and three disc “Explosive Edition”, if this title peaks your curiosity even in the slightest I would strongly suggest picking up the three disc release as the extras presented are every bit as entertaining as the feature itself. TRAIN KEPT-A-ROLLIN’ is a feature length documentary that encompasses INGLORIOUS BASTARDS from its inception, casting and throughout its filming, and brilliantly so. Numerous interviews, including Castellari, Wlliamson, Svenson, Massimo Vanni, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, producer Roberto Sbarigia and co-writer Laura Toscano, are edited together with footage from the film and behind the scenes still photography to paint a broad outline of the film's production. TRAIN KEPT-A-ROLLIN’ is a 75- minute documentary which shines a light on the film's cast and production. It's never dull and treats its subject matter with a noticeable amount of respect and reverence. Much like in the feature itself, The Hammer’s personality is infectious. Kindred spirits, he and Castellari are still quite fond of each other to this day, as both recollect their time together as one of collaboration and mutual respect. Bo Svenson is considerably more animated that that of character Lt. Yeager, discussing his career in Italy throughout the 1980s. Some of the most amusing stories revolve around special effects wizard Gino “Bombardone” De Rossi, whose inventive creations would save the production from falling under on more than one occasion. When the Italian government seized all of the film's replicas, it was Gino’s resourcefulness and Castellari’s "never give up" attitude that prevented the production from stalling permanently. Special attention is also paid to the film's extensive and impressive matte work, which while noticeable on most occasions, skillfully expands the film's production and entertainment value.

“Back To The War Zone” is a 13-minute featurette that follows Castellari back to several of the film's original filming locations. While time and plant life have taken their toll on most of the locales, Castellari's memory is flawless as he fondly recalls shooting at such memorable sites as the waterfall where the skinny dipping scene takes place and the train station that sets the film's finale. Visual and audio quality for both features on disc two are on par with the feature presentation, with optional English subtitles available for both. Once you found the Easter egg on disc one, look in the same spot on disc two for an additional hidden treasure.

The final disc of Severin Films' expansive set is an audio CD featuring the only remaining elements from maestro Francesco De Masi's military infused score. While there is a persistent hiss throughout the disc's 20-minute playtime, its very inclusion is an impressive addition that helps illustrate the devotion and care that Severin have given this release. Highly enjoyable, I can’t recommend INGLORIOUS BASTARDS enough and can easily see it finding its way to a great number of top ten lists for 2008. (Jason McElreath)