Very few films are perfect, in my eyes at least. Coen Brothers’ 2007 classic No Country For Old Men is a movie I constantly cite as being one where every single individual scene and performance would be impossible to improve upon in progressing the filmmaker’s intention within that genre. No Country, for example, is a film I have watched at length and found no flaws, nothing that dissatisfies me or that I think could be bettered. Stanley Kubrick’s early crime classic The Killing is another. But these are few and far between.
Of course that’s just my opinion and you guys might be able to come up with a list a mile long about what annoys you about either film and you are entitled to that (I’d love to see such a list however if you do feel that way). But 99.9% of every other movie I’ve seen, even among the hundreds I love and watch incessantly, I’ve found things to dislike, that are irksome to me in some way and perhaps contain missed opportunities for further greatness.
In the first of a new series, I’m going to dissect some films I like and some that I don’t like so much, but always those where I felt like a few things could be tweaked just to make the movie a little better than it actually is. Some of these things were found upon frequent viewings, of course, and perhaps weren’t things I had noticed the first time around where a film worked completely for me.
First up on the block is Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Best Picture nominated WWII movie Inglourious Basterds, a personal favourite of mine and a movie I’ve seen a dozen times. However, almost since my first viewing of the film, I’ve always felt a few niggles from the movie and here they are…
Of course there are huge spoilers in this article if you have not seen the movie…
1) The Opening Scene – Redemption For LaPadite
A homage to a similar scene in his favourite movie The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, the opening of Inglourious Basterds perfectly showcases Quentin Tarantino’s trademark inventive use of language and love for dialogue as Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates a French farmer Perrier LaPadite (Dennis Menochet) over whether he knows the whereabouts of the missing Jewish family the Dreyfuss’s in Nazi occupied France. We are informed by a smart camera pan that they are living underneath the floorboards.
After enjoying a glass of milk, toying with poor LaPadite in a Sherlock Holmes impression, even philosophizing with him and subtly threatening the lives of his own family, Landa promises LaPadite a pardon for hiding Jews and promises him anonymity from the Germans for the rest of the war if he was to give the Dreyfuss family up to him today. LaPadite, a good and religious man (notice the cross above his door in the image above), with a heavy heart, gives in to Landa’s questioning for the sake of his own family and is traumatized to point to where the Jews are hiding.
As the scene goes, Landa instructs his Nazi’s subordinates to open heavy fire on the floorboards, killing the Dreyfuss family in hiding, except for one girl… Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), who then runs for her life through the open fields. Landa, like a hunter pointing out a rat, sees her flee and she doesn’t get very far before he points his Luger up at the back of her head as she’s running away. After a considerable amount of time, as the prey is in the hunter’s site, ‘The Jew Hunter’ lifts his gun to point to the sky, smiles, and says ‘Au Revoir, Soshanna’. Whatttttttt?
The allowing of Shosanna to so easily get away in Inglourious Basterds always bugged me. I can only presume Tarantino ended the scene in such a manner perhaps to show that Landa, a character who always seems to be a head of the game – the one character who always seems to see the bigger picture of what is happening and how things will play (note the end scene and how he plays with Soshanna with the strudel) – knows that she will play a huge part in his life further down the road and that’s why he lets her live, but i still don’t like it.
In a brief moment that was in the slightly longer Cannes cut of Inglourious Basterds but was since removed for the theatrical release, Landa remarks to his soldiers that the girl would likely freeze to death on the run in the coming winter anyway but it’s an undeniable fact that the Jew Hunter, had his prey in his sights, and for reasons not obviously explained, he let her go free.
Here’s how I would have played the same scene…
So LaPadite gives up the Dreyfuss’ family under his floorboards and they are massacred in the same manner, except for Soshanna who once again makes her dash for freedom escape. BUT this time, just before Landa is to shoot her, the French farmer grabs his bottle of milk, hits Landa on the back of the head, temporarily stunning him. Landa’s Nazi’s then open fire on LaPadite, shooting a thousand bullets into his stomach, sacrificing himself to allow Soshanna to get away.
LaPadite is redeemed for giving up the Dreyfuss’ and it’s Soshanna’s ability to live like a rat that allows her to survive.
2) Madame Mimieux
In the script for Inglourious Basterds we find out how Soshanna went from being a fleeing Jew on the run from the Nazi’s with no shelter to her name, to a cinema owner in just a few years. This filling in the blanks was omitted from both the Cannes print and the final version of the movie but it briefly went like this;
A character by the name of Madame Mimieux, the original owner of the French cinema, takes in this ‘orphan’ girl who keeps turning up night after night to watch the films (which by now are almost exclusively Goebbels’ propaganda films), presumably for a temporary roof over her head and to avoid running into Germans.
Madame Mimieux finds an exceptional quality about Soshanna and is impressed by her spirited, intelligent and honest attitude and she teaches her the ropes of how to work the projections and although it’s only a brief character, Madame Mimieux is just one of a few players in Tarantino’s movie who don’t quite know why, but must feel that there’s an important, perhaps mythical reason to keep helping this young girl with her struggle.
She is even the one who plants the idea in Soshanna’s head, subconsciously, to blow up the cinema to end the war with dialogue that in the final cut is given to the narrator Samuel L. Jackson;
MADAME MIMIEUX if I ever see you light up a cigarette in my cinema again, I'll turn you into the Nazi's, do you understand? Shosanna is shocked by this statement. SHOSANNA Oui, Madame. MADAME MIMIEUX And for bringing a open flame in my cinema, you deserve far worse then a Nazi jewish boxcar. With your thick head, what do you think the highest priority of a cinema manager is? Keeping this fucking place from burning down to the ground, that's what! In my collection, I have over 350, 35mm, nitrate film prints, which are not only immensely flammable, but highly unstable. And should they catch fire, they burn three times faster then paper. If that happens.. .POOF...all gone, cinema no more, every body burned alive. If I ever see you with a open flame in my cinema again, I won't turn you into the Nazi's I'll kill you myself. And the fucking Germans will give me a curfew pass. Do you understand me? SHOSANNA Out, Madame. MADAME MIMIEUX Do you believe me? SHOSANNA Out, Madame. MADAME MIMIEUX You damn well better.
It was a nice few scenes on paper and Tarantino even went to the trouble of shooting them with the great Asian actress Maggie Cheung to play the part (how a Chinese woman came to own a French cinema is itself the kind of fantasy story that only exists in Tarantino’s mind) but ultimately he cut it for length and for the belief that the mystery of how Soshanna escaped evasion from the Nazi’s and came to own the cinema was better left to the imagination.
Usually, I agree with Tarantino on this statement. We certainly don’t need to know what is in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, we don’t need to know why Aldo Raine has a rope burn scar on his neck… but how Soshanna came to own the cinema, given her circumstances, is a criminal snippet of information not to tell us.
It feels lazy, too conveniently cut, and the absence of it is more irritating than it is intriguing. The eventual extended cut of Inglourious Basterds which we will probably get around 2021, will probably include the scene and I bet the film plays better…
3) Deaths Switch Over
There’s two significant female deaths in the final act of Inglourious Basterds – one where the German movie star/British wartime spy Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is strangled viciously to death by Col. Hans Landa for betraying the Nazi’s (0r is it because she insulted his intelligence by the ski story???) and the other where Soshanna is shot to death by German war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl).
Two cool death scenes that work on there own merit but I can’t help but think Tarantino made a mistake in how he arranged the death scenes. Why didn’t he write them the other way around?
In all the scenes involving Zoller and Shosanna, it’s made clear the German war hero has a deep lust for Soshanna… and in that red dress, well it’s pushed his animalistic instincts over the edge. Shosanna has flirted with Zoller to get the Nazi officer inside the projection room to avoid shouting in the corridor (and giving her game away) only to once again reject him. But this time, instead of Shosanna shooting him in the back as a pre-emptive shot, why not have Zoller force himself on Soshanna and to stop herself being raped, she reaches for her gun and shoots Zoller.
Zoller strangles Shosanna in a mixture of anger and sexual desire, despite being wounded, and Soshanna, now almost breathless manages to shoot him again… but Zoller’s grip on her remains tight and he kills her, before then expiring himself from his wounds, lying on top of her. Looking like two lovers exhausted after making love, though blood and not semen is the giveaway for what happened.
For Bridget Von Hammersmark’s death at the hands of Landa… all the Tarantino foot fetish stuff could work as before but just have Landa shoot her. He’s not somebody who is previously built up to be someone who has the anger in him to kill someone by his own hands and he’s so neat and precise, why wouldn’t he use the gun?
4) Eli Roth Re-Casting
Tarantino rarely makes casting mistakes in his films, though he dropped a huge clanger with Inglourious Basterds when he cast his friend and somewhat protage Eli Roth for a major role in the movie, that of ‘The Bear Jew’, Sgt. Donny Donowitz. Because of the ridiculously short timeframe he gave himself to get a completed movie in competition at the Cannes film festival, he only had a few weeks to find the right person to play the character, a role he had probably envisioned Michael Madsen to play when he was writing the screenplay intially in the 90′s, but by the time he got around to finishing it, he was too old for the part.
In the final few years of writing, Tarantino had wanted Adam Sandler, in the usual Tarantino trick of casting against type, to play The Bear Jew but he was busy making Funny People.
So under this pressure, Tarantino gave in and against his better judgement, trusted that his friend could pull it off. Unfortunately, Eli Roth is only slightly a better actor than Tarantino himself and all the moments he appears in the movie fail to live up to how well the character reads on paper.
After a huge build up and introduction to his character… perhaps the biggest character build-up outside of a whole movie building up to David Carradine’s appearance as Bill, out comes the director of Hostel. To say the air was suck out of the first screening I attended for the movie, was an understatement.
Casting his friend clouded his better judgement and it’s not a mistake he would have made back in the 90′s.
5) What The Hell Happened To Hirschberg and The Rest Of ‘The Basterds’
Out of the 8 Basterds that make up Aldo Raine’s Nazi-killers, we only find out the fate of half of them. We know The Bear Jew (Roth) and Omar Ulmar (Omar Doom) go down with the cinema, and that Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) and Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Becker) are killed in the bar scene. But what happened to Gerold Hirschberg (Samm Levine), Andy Kagan (Paul Rust), Michael Zimmerman (Michael Bacall) and Simon Sakowitz (Carlos Fidel) whom Tarantino makes such a big deal about in The Dirty Dozen scene near the beginning.
For a movie titled Inglourious Basterds, it’s just a shame that only half of the team get the spotlight and the others just seem like afterthoughts. Could he not have given them just one scene of glory or of note?
So that’s my five things that would improve Inglourious Basterds. Agree/disagree?