Thursday, July 31, 2008
Deserters, Cutthroats and Thieves
The line was already well down the block when I showed up for Enzo G. Castellari night at the New Beverly on Wednesday. His 1977 World War II opus INGLORIOUS BASTARDS was being shown and with Quentin Tarantino about to go into production on his own World War II film of the same name (although, as far as I can tell, it’s in no way a remake) the Castellari film has been receiving extra attention recently, with a 3-Disc DVD recently released. Tarantino, surprisingly, did not show up, even though he’d done a q&a with James Toback just a few nights before, but the packed house was instead treated to appearances of Enzo Castellari himself along with the film’s stars Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson. All three men looked in good spirits and very happy to be there. Before the film we were treated to a long run of trailers for films involving Castellari and Williamson like WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and others I’ve never seen—what in the name of all that is holy is FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH? Best of all was the trailer for the long-buried GREAT WHITE, a JAWS ripoff which allegedly came so close to the original that Universal had it legally withdrawn from circulation. The jaw-dropping trailer even seems to be narrated by familiar voice Percy Rodriguez (you’d know it of you heard it) who also did the legendary JAWS trailer and it obviously comes so deliberately close to the original that it seems like nothing less than a version of JAWS from an alternate dimension. We were told later that the New Beverly had wanted to screen it on this double bill, but Universal immediately clamped down on them. At least we got to see the trailer.
And we got to see INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (actually, there should be a THE in there), shown in a brand-spanking new 35mm print. American soldiers being transported off to prison take advantage of a massive ambush to escape and as they attempt to head off to presumed freedom in the neural territory of Switzerland they soon find themselves mistaken for a real squadron by the French underground. This of course brings us to the guys-on-a-mission plotline, leading the men to have to act like a real squadron as they are forced to try to be the heroes that they clearly have no interest in being. Svenson and Williamson, very cool of course, are the leaders of the group and Ian Bannen plays the Colonel parachuting in for the big mission who doesn’t get the squadron he was expecting. The film was obviously made on a budget and period detail is at a minimum—Donald Sutherland in KELLY’S HEROES was nothing in comparison—but the movie obviously wants to be nothing more than a fun romp and pretty much succeeds. I’d list all the movies it is reminiscent of, from Aldrich to Peckinpah, but you could probably name some of them just from the synopsis. It’s funnier than expected, with my favorite moment being when Williamson checks his dog tags when reeling off his name and number like always happens in these movies. The plot is really nothing more than a bunch of stuff happening leading up to a big climax, but the actors are fun, the action is pretty constant, there’s lot of gunfire and other methods of killing Nazis with many people shooting up into the air after grenades go off. Also, Fred Williamson actually jumps onto a train from a bridge (he’s too cool to need a stuntman) and naked girls fire machine guns. What else do you need? It played great with the crowd.
The post film q&a had Williamson, who doesn’t look like he’s aged a day, talking about that jump—with the steam from the train he couldn’t see what he was doing so he wasn’t able to ‘jump cool’. He also went into how the comedy from the film came out of Castellari continually trying to get him to add his own ideas to scenes. Bo Svenson talked about the difficulties of post-synch dubbing while still adding that he loved working over in Italy and Castellari, celebrating his 70th birthday, looked thrilled at the response to his film as both actors spoke glowingly of him (this is all on Youtube, for anyone interested). Williamson pointed out Larry Cohen sitting in the crowd and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Enzo. As they broke, off to the side some of the people running the event began selling the new DVD of the film which came with an INGLORIOUS BASTARDS t-shirt and you can bet that I made sure to get one.
By the time the second film, BATTLE SQUADRON, finally started it was about eleven, so it was too late for me to stay. Many others left as well but the feeling in the air was that everyone was clearly very glad that they had been there for this. Would more people have stayed if the New Beverly had been able to screen a 35mm print of GREAT WHITE? Sadly, we will never know.