An insubordinate officer (Bo Svenson), an African-American who Has Been Pushed Too Far (Fred Williamson), a thief, a gambler, and a coward are among the prisoners loaded up onto an Allied convoy in 1944. When the trucks come under attack from the Germans, the prisoners escape, and decide to make their way to Switzerland. But their journey is a complicated one, with another firefight around every corner, culminating in a particularly violent case of mistaken identity, which results in their volunteering to tackle a suicidal train-jacking.
Though I’ll have to wait for its release to be certain, everything I’ve heard and seen so far indicates that Quentin Tarantino’s new film will have its title and World War II in common with this film, and nothing else. Setting those considerations aside, what we have here is a hugely enjoyable action film, in the vein of The Dirty Dozen, only with even more action. Indeed, barely a minute goes by between machine gun and explosion set pieces. Characterization is limited to broad strokes, there’s a romance that cannot even be called perfunctory, and decisions are made that lack any clear motivation beyond making something else happen in the movie, but who really cares? The pace is relentless, and the climax is nuttily and beautifully over the top. Enormous fun.
The picture has been beautifully restored. There are one or two brief moments where the print looks aged or the image is a bit soft, but otherwise, there is zero grain and no damage. The colours are light but agreeably naturalistic, and there is in general a smooth, engaging quality to the picture. The aspect ratio preserves the original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Very nice work, indeed.
The audio isn’t quite as strong. Both music and sound effects have more surround presence in the 5.1 mix than the 2.0, but the former track is much, much fainter than the latter. I had to crank the volume to almost twice my normal listening level just to be able to hear the dialogue properly. Otherwise, the clarity is solid, especially for a 30-plus-year-old feature. Some of the dubbing sounds odd, but that, of course, is to be expected given that Italian films were rarely shot using direct sound.
Commentary track: David Gregory moderates a discussion with director Enzo Castellari. The filmmaker’s accent is pretty thick, but still quite comprehensible, and he goes into wonderful detail about how the film was made.
A Conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino: (38:23) Not exactly an interview, since Tarantino does go on and on about his own experience watching the film, but the two men do seem to be very much enjoying each other’s company.
Train Kept A Rollin’: (1:15:21) An in-depth, feature-length documentary about the film, featuring interviews with talent on both sides of the camera. Fred Williams doesn’t appear to have aged a day.
Back to the War Zone: (13:00) Castellari revisits the film’s locations. Many shots of scenery and of the director walking around.
Inglorious Reunion at the New Beverly: (11:24) Exactly what it sounds like, a Q&A with the cast and director at a screening of the film. This feature is exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition.
Enzo’s 70th Birthday Celebration in LA: (7:15) And Williamson and Svenson were there to celebrate with him. Another Blu-Ray exclusive.
Trailers: The UK and Italian versions, along with one for Eagles Over London.
Easter Egg: Highlight the “Inglorious Bastards” logo and you get the opening credits for a crummy VHS release of the film, under the title Deadly Mission. Included for your enjoyment are ghastly sound and picture quality, along with the inevitable tracking problems. A little bit of nostalgia for the bad old days of home video.
No one is ever going to compare this to The Bridge on the River Kwai, but it is a fine old time at the flicks, with nary a slow moment in sight. Plus, it looks terrific.