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Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' on a mission

SUMMER SNEAKS

Brad Pitt stars as the leader of World War II soldiers spreading terror among the enemy in Nazi-occupied France.

May 03, 2009|John Horn

When Quentin Tarantino was just a video store clerk filled with filmmaking dreams, he and his pals shared a shorthand for the against-all-odds mission movie they would someday make: "This will be our 'Inglorious Bastards!' " Tarantino and his friends would say.

Other aspiring filmmakers might have cited "The Dirty Dozen" or "The Magnificent Seven" for reference, but Tarantino -- who always has been drawn to and has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure B movies -- preferred director Enzo Castellari's 1978 Italian World War II film "Inglorious Bastards," a sometimes campy drama about renegade soldiers shooting and blowing up Nazis in World War II France.

Tarantino's new film -- starring Brad Pitt, a mix of American and European character actors and some fish-out-of-water casting picks such as comedian Mike Myers and torture-porn director Eli Roth -- borrows hardly anything from its Italian predecessor, and even the title of Tarantino's Cannes Film Festival competition movie is a bit different: "Inglourious Basterds."

But there is still a difficult mission in the film that opens Aug. 21; it is still World War II, and there are still guns and bombs.

Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine heads a group of eight Jewish soldiers (two of whom are German-born) spreading terror among the enemy in Nazi-occupied France. Their tactics, given the filmmaker's soft spot for sadism, aren't exactly subtle.

"Their mission is to psychologically beat the Germans by desecrating and butchering their bodies, taking their scalps, disemboweling them, and always leaving one soldier alive to tell the story," Tarantino says, sipping an iced tea on the second-floor balcony of his Hollywood Hills home overlooking Universal Studios. It's akin, he says, to what the Apaches did to the U.S. Cavalry: When you'd rather die than be captured, the enemy is winning the mind game.

Lest the Basterds be labeled one-trick ponies, the outfit is then given its impossible mission: to blast the Paris movie theater hosting the premiere of the latest propaganda film by Nazi spin doctor Joseph Goebbels.

Tarantino had tried to write the movie for years, and found himself mired in history books that only confused his plotting. "The problem with doing World War II research is that it can derail you, because there are too many great stories, too many good ideas to go around."

Tarantino hopes that his movie is not nearly as somber as the most recent round of World War II films -- including "Defiance," "Valkyrie" and "Flags of Our Fathers." Instead, he's hoping "Inglourious Basterds" has some of the wit and looseness of movies about the war made during the war, like 1943's "This Land Is Mine" and 1941's "Man Hunt."

"This isn't," Tarantino says, "antiwar misery."

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john.horn@latimes.com

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