Truth and Fiction…

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes life imitates art. In this case, the premise of my novel BLADE OF DISHONOR made the news today. The book revolves around Butch, a World War II vet who came home with a war trophy: a treasured Japanese sword. I based this on the fact that several priceless Masamune blades from the Tokugawa era disappeared at the end of the war, and have never resurfaced. And I wrote in the book that very few swords are returned.

Now this veteran has proved me wrong, or become the exception that proves the rule. A good man who fought bravely and wished to make war no more. Orval Amdahl, I salute you.

Reminder: Blade of Dishonor Part 1: The War Comes Home is FREE on Kindle for next two days.

Thanks to Dan Malmon for the tip.

WWII vet from Minnesota to return Japanese sword

The Associated Press
POSTED: 09/13/2013 04:08:47 AM CDT | UPDATED: ABOUT 2 HOURS AGO

LANESBORO, Minn.—A 94-year-old veteran from southeastern Minnesota plans to return a sword he took from Nagasaki, Japan, as a token of his time during World War II.
“At first, I kept it as a souvenir,” said Orval Amdahl, of rural Lanesboro. “Then, all of a sudden, I began thinking—someone had to own this.”

Amdahl said he got the sword because he was a Marine captain in the war. Over the years he kept the sword in good condition. He tried contacting people about the sword but had no luck.

Then Caren Stelson asked to interview him for a book she’s writing about the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war in 1945. Amdahl mentioned the sword.

“I showed it to her, and it blossomed from there,” he told the Post-Bulletin of Rochester ( http://bit.ly/1auU6LK). “She has people in Nagasaki she can work with.”

Stelson used those contacts to find Tadahiro Motomura, the grandson of the Japanese military officer who once owned the sword.

Amdahl will hand the sword to Motomura during a ceremony Sept. 21 at the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, which is a sister city to Nagasaki.

Amdahl said he was on a ship during World War II, ready to take part in an invasion of Japan, when the two atomic bombs were dropped.

In Japan, he was stationed at Nagasaki after the radiation from the bomb had dissipated. Before he left, he was allowed to take home one souvenir. That’s when he saw the sword with a wood-covered scabbard and a block of wood attached by a string. It looked like it might have belonged to a cavalry officer, and Amdahl liked horses. He took that one.

“I want to get it back to the rightful owner. … I won’t miss it,” Amdahl said. “I believe in peace.”

 

The Next Big Thing: BLADE OF DISHONOR

I got tagged by Ed Kurtz, author of Bleed, Control and others, to join in The Next Big Thing blog tour. Normally I don’t jump in for these things but he’s a good guy and it’s an easy way to talk about works in progress, and let readers know about other writers they might enjoy.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Blade of Dishonor, a novella for Beat to a Pulp. (I’ve mentioned Bury the Hatchet a lot on the blog, and it is still in progress, but this will be done first.)

2) Where did the idea come from?

David Cranmer asked if I’d be interested in writing about an MMA fighter tussling with ninjas over a stolen sword. How could I say no to that? David published my mixed martial arts fighter tale “A Glutton for Punishment,” and I grew up on ’80s ninja movies and the Shogun Assassin “baby cart” samurai films. It is set in the present day, but the action begins in World War 2. I enjoy writing this so much that there may be a prequel written in the era of feudal Japan.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Adventure. Pulp is not a genre and “men’s adventure” paperback originals aren’t either, really. Adventure covers it, with a little War thrown in.

4) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Mixed martial arts fighter Reeves comes home from Iraq to help his wheelchair-bound grandfather run his Army-Navy store, and becomes embroiled in a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a priceless and powerful Japanese sword.

5) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters?

Reeves, the MMA fighter, would be played by Joel Edgerton. He was in Warrior, he played a fighter and made it look real. Plus he’s got those sad eyes that women like, and looks like someone went over him with coarse grit sandpaper. My kind of hero.

Joel Edgerton vs. Hiroyuki Sanada

His grandfather Butch, the wheelchair-bound war vet would be played by Ed Asner. He’s big, old, and angry as hell. Better known for comedy, but the man is a firestorm. The villain is a Japanese businessman, who could be played by Tadanobu Asano, best known for his role in Thor.

Hendricks drives and Ed is Bad-ASNER

And his brutal henchman Mikio would be a good role for Hiroyuki Sanada, who is in “Revenge” and the new Wolverine film. He has the scruffy, beat down look. Tara, the gal with the suped-up muscle car, could be Gina Carano, but Tara is an art major, not a fighter. She’d break a fired chunk of pottery over your head, not try the flying armbar. She’s more of a Christina Hendricks, tough on the inside.

She’ll be in my next story, I promise.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is a work for hire for Beat to a Pulp press.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

8 weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Action-oriented thrillers like the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child and the Pike novels by Robert Crais, but grittier. War novels like The Short-Timers, James Brady’s The Marines of Autumn. I won’t say there’s nothing like it out there, but I haven’t read anything close. Maybe my readers can enlighten me.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My great-uncles all fought in World War 2, in Europe and the Pacific. The book is dedicated to them. They never talked in detail about the War, but their feelings were made clear. And I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture since I was a kid. I loved Clavell’s Shogun, the Lone Wolf and Cub manga–I read all 28 volumes–Musashi, the yakuza gangster movies of Suzuki, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, and of course, the samurai films of Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki, any movie with Toshiro Mifune in it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The story follows Reeves in Part 1, then his grandfather Butch Sloane, in Part 2.  Butch was a commando in the Devil’s Brigade. It is meticulously researched, and while we are in the trenches for all of the story, if you look up the battles date by date, what weapons, who fought in it, and how they won, it will satisfy all but the most unforgiving. It’s fiction, after all. I took license here and there, but I put the characters into real situations. The Devil’s Brigade existed, they fought the battles in the book, and if I change history, it is to insert the lost history of a grand plan that failed. The Devils were the inspiration for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only they were even badder.

And if you enjoy mixed martial arts, I trained in them for seven years. I write them realistically. I know a pro and amateur fighters and trainers, and I write them with respect. But also show just how brutal this training translates into combat outside of the ring.

This story is as tight and intense as anything I’ve written, fast-moving and thrilling while giving you plenty to think about. With enough action for three movies, much less one.

I’m tagging five writer friends you may know about already. If you don’t, I recommend you get acquainted with them, they are fantastic. I will admit, they have all talked to me about their projects or mentioned them on social media, so I dub them not only to spark your interest, but because of my own. They haven’t let me down yet, and I want to know what irons they got in the fire.

Josh Stallings is a film editor by day, and the author of the Moses McGuire crime thrillers by night. And I mean long into the night. We shared a hotel once, and when our sleep apnea machines were not dueling into the night like two Darth Vaders arguing over a dinner check, he was tip tapping away into the small hours. And the work shows. The McGuire books, Beautiful Naked, and Dead and Out There Bad, are two excellent tales about a bad-ass Marine who survived Beirut but never really came home. He’s a strip club bouncer, muscle for hire, and when he’s not trading slugs and elbow strikes with the bad guys, he’s at war with the demons within himself. The poetry of James Crumley’s sad, elegiac prose and the rip roaring action of Robert Crais.

Lynn Beighley delivers pills of sharp and subtle humor hidden in the steak of her fiction… like she’s sneaking medicine to one of her two Bernese Mountain dogs. She cut her teeth as a tech writer, but her short stories have appeared in journals and all over the web. She brilliantly depicts our fractured modern lives, interweaving social media personae with cold splashes of reality.

Steve Weddle is the editor for Needle: A Magazine of Noir and the creator of hitman Oscar Martello. Steve often combines hardboiled grit with absurd and fatalistic humor, but is also capable of fascinating introspection, as in the story he wrote for the Protectors anthology.

Jen Conley is an editor for Shotgun Honey, and no one captures the attitude and dialogue of New Jersey like she does. Her stories have appeared in ThugLit, Protectors, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter and elsewhere. Her characters are so full of life they claw their way off the page.

Chad Eagleton is a two-time Watery Grave International finalist and Spinetingler award nominee. His socially conscious crime fiction packs a wallop. Chad has also been researching novelist Shane Stevens, who wrote the first serial killer novel and was the basis for Alex Machine in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and also happens to be one of the most underappreciated writers of his time.

I’m eager to hear what their fierce imaginations are up to… aren’t you?

And if you want a taste of how I write Edo Period Japan, with samurai and yakuza… read “Shogun Honey,” which I wrote for Sabrina Ogden when she was at Shotgun Honey.

 

The Ballad of Ira Hayes

“Call him drunken Ira Hayes, he won’t answer any more, not the whiskey-drinking Indian or the Marine who went to war…”

Wars battle on until everyone touched by them is dead.

I remember watching the last American soldiers leave Saigon. On television, of course. And likely years after it occurred, on April 30th 1975. The footage replays in my head. My young mind couldn’t comprehend the images, but with the long-range empathy of the innocent, I could feel its import, sensing the troubled minds of the adults around me. What’s that, Mommy? Viet Nam.

Maybe it was the succession of Vietnam War movies I saw in the ’70s and ’80s, like The Boys in Company C, but it always felt like the war raged on forever, and always had been. When I read Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow, I realized that I was correct. At least from the perspective of the Vietnamese, that war began centuries ago and continued long after those choppers tumbled into the sea.

And it is the same with World War 2. Europe is rebuilt, though monuments and wreckage in the forests and along the shores remain; but the scars of warfare run deep within those who fought, those who suffered, and their families.

Ira Hayes was one of the Marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, in the iconic photo. The government whisked those men home for photo ops, and many, including Hayes, suffered survivor’s guilt for leaving their buddies in the fighting. I didn’t think much of the film Flags of Our Fathers, but give it credit for dramatizing the reality behind the manufactured glory of World War 2. As the song states, Hayes died of alcohol poisoning and exposure. A tragic and lonely death for a war hero who served in the company of many forgotten heroes.

My great-uncles fought in the War, some in the Pacific, some in Europe, and one in both. Only two of them are still kicking. Jimmy- who I recently learned is actually my Uncle Vincenzo- and Dominic, who everyone has called Butch, since before I was born. My great-grandparents came over from southern Italy, the seaside city of Bari and the mountaintop village of Acri. (The priests and teachers wouldn’t accept Italian first names, so Dominic and Vincenzo became Butch and Jimmy.)

Like most soldiers, they don’t talk much about the War. Jimmy’s feet froze at the Battle of the Bulge. Patton’s tankers saved their behinds, he says. Butch proudly wears his medals, when a suit is required. Jimmy never has. Both of them are past 90, and are now widowers. They helped each other survive the Depression, and they visited my grandmother every Sunday morning for coffee, until she passed away six or more years ago. We were very close, and I try not to remember losing her. Now uncle Jimmy is deteriorating, and that same sadness wells inside me. So that’s why a depressing song about a war hero dying forgotten and alone is in my head this week. Uncle Jim is a generous, kind, hard-working man. Him & Butch worked as plumbers and roofers- just to keep busy- well into their eighties. He hunted until his eyesight faded, and gave me venison when his freezer overflowed with it. I’m planning to visit him this weekend, and I’m afraid it may be the last time I see my great-uncle, whose sly smile and pencil mustache, whose straight man humor and upright authority made him a giant to me.

The War will smolder on, in dying skirmishes and distant echoes of small arms fire, in my memories of my uncles Jimmy and Butch, and the stories of them that I will tell my own children. Like the unexploded ordnance buried in the woods, or land mines long forgotten, war touches us long after the last soldier is lain to rest.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern in the Waste Land of WW2

Saw Inglourious Basterds the other night with Firecracker. We both enjoyed it. There, done.

Actually it is quite entertaining for a 2 1/2 hour movie filled with long stretches of dialogue, and that in itself is an accomplishment these days. It’s not an action movie; it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie. Like his idols Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock and Sergio Leone, he’s learned that we glean more suspense from the measured anticipation of violence than from the explosive act itself. The movie opens on the French countryside, as SS Colonel Hans Landa speaks with a farmer he suspects of hiding Jews. For fifteen minutes, we are rapt listening to the two men quietly converse over smoked pipes, and a glass of milk. No music. Much like the beginning to Once Upon a Time in the West, he forgoes the assistance of the soundtrack. You can hear the creaking of the floorboards, the soft wind outside. It’s a brilliant introduction and showcase for actor Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of the film’s psychopathic villain, the cold-eyed, relentless Jew Hunter, drained of all colorful excess. The final solution, was after all, enacted by bean counters. Landa is more of an Inspector Javert, all the more terrifying because he lacks the insane zeal of the Nazis, but has all the compassion of a laser-guided missile.
One girl does escape his clutches in this scene, Shoshanna. As she flees, he calls to her, “au revoir.” See you again. From this scene onward, I felt that the characters knew they were in a movie; it’s a Tarantino trait, and it isn’t meant as a slight or dismissal. One of my favorite films, Casablanca, has its characters practically winking at the camera in every scene. In the next chapter, we meet the Bastards, the infamous Nazi hunting squad of Jews recruited by Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine, a Tennessee moonshiner’s son with a hanging scar, that the Germans have nicknamed The Apache. In a shot recalling George C. Scott’s opening speech in Patton, he tells his men they owe him a debt of 100 Nazi scalps. Sure, it’s fantastical, and recalls classics as The Dirty Dozen. But there were real groups like The Filthy Thirteen, and psy-ops meant to break enemy resolve. The story has only the flimsiest grip on reality, and lives in the mythology built upon the foundation of hundreds of movies and television shows about the Second World War. And it rewrites history, like many of those films do- but in the biggest way imaginable.
Much has been said about whether Eli Roth’s cameo role as Donny Donnowitz, “the Bear Jew,” who likes to club Nazis to death with a Louisville Slugger, and how horrible his acting was. Personally, I thought he was fine as the ubiquitous “Brooklyn” character every WW2 movie has. And for a director, he acted quite well. No, he’s no Cronenberg or even Scorsese directing himself in Taxi Driver, but I’ll take him over another Tarantino cameo (though admittedly, his line ‘because he’s a stuntman’ was one of the funnier bits of Death Proof). The other standout Bastard is Hugo Stiglitz, a German deserter who killed a bunch of Nazi officers. Named after a Mexican grindhouse star and played by Til Schweiger- who was hilarious in SLC Punk!– he gets a lot of mileage out of playing the strong, silent type and gets as nearly as many laughs as Pitt’s ridiculous hillbilly accent. “I want mah Gnatzi scalps!”
And so does Shoshanna. Now running a cinema in occupied Paris, she’s met by Franz Zoller, a war hero starring in a propaganda film that Goebbels wants to premiere at the Ritz. She doesn’t know this when she meets him, just as he has no idea she’s anything but an alluring, smart cinephile. Played by Mélanie Laurent and Daniel Brühl (Goodbye Lenin!) this odd romance is captivating, as Tarantino gives us the romance of Paris with the backdrop of the terror of occupation. Shoshanna just wants to survive, but through Zoller’s romantic inclinations, she has her revenge plunked into her lap- the film will premiere at her theater, with the Nazi high command attending. She intends to burn down the house, not knowing that Allied saboteurs have the same idea. The saboteurs are led by a British infiltrator named Hickox played perfectly by Michael Fassbender of “Band of Brothers.” He’s stepped right out of a Pressburger & Powell picture, with the energy of a young Kevin Kline and the wit of a young David Niven. He and a few Bastards are meeting with the German actress Bridget von Hammersmark in a rathskeller to synchronize plans, when they unexpectedly find themselves in a Quentin Tarantino film.
This is the longest dialogue-driven scene in the story and the only one that feels a bit overlong, and too familiar. Hammersmark (played by Diane Kruger of National Treasure) isn’t a caricature of Marlene Dietrich, who recorded propaganda records for the OSS and entertained troops in France, Algeria and marched with Patton into Germany. The Germans hated Marlene for it, but as she said, it was “aus Anstand”- the decent thing to do. Bridget is one better, by contriving to have the Nazi high command blown to bits in a daring suicide mission. She and the Bastards decide to keep their rendezvous in the basement pub even though a soldier is celebrating fatherhood there, and it ends up in one of Quentin’s Mexican standoffs. Instead of feeling like a trademark, it felt overused; much like the standoff over the pregnancy tests in Kill Bill Vol.2.

However, this leads to its one reference to the movie it gets its title from, The Inglorious Bastards (full review) where a group of bad boys have to take over a suicide mission, and that’s what happens here. The Bear Jew will get to massacre Nazis and their wives with burp guns while Shoshanna’s face is projected on the firestorm of the burning theater like the visage of a vengeful Old Testament God, as we’re delivered a brutal, fiery finale unlike any ending Tarantino’s written before. Their uppance has cometh, and it’s wonderful to watch, as gruesome as it may be.
Most of the criticisms seem unfair. Sure, it knows it’s a movie. So did Casablanca. Like most of QT’s films it is a palimpsest of his influences that came before it, and the characters are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discussing philosophy behind the curtains. That’s my description of Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, and those seem to be the kind of characters Tarantino is most interested in. Like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and James Joyce’s Ulysses, it certainly references and pastiches the works that he considers influences; he may not have the sense of humor with it that Joyce does, nor is it meant as an encapsulation of all that came before, as Eliot, but being a construct of references doesn’t dilute its artistry. He does play with the very concept of cinema changing history, as the accelerant that ignites Shoshanna’s vengeance is the nitrate film stock collected in the theater. The very films Hitler would burn as affronts to Aryan supremacy are the instrument of the Reich’s undoing. Now that’s all very clever, but coupled with his talent, it makes for quite an enjoyable film for cinephiles and moviegoers alike.

Armond White, that gadfly of film criticism, made the valid point that the Nazis are dehumanized de facto in this story, and Tarantino isn’t interested in telling us of the horrors of war. But I’ll take a wild fantasy like this one, which wears its heart on its sleeve, than one that buys into the mythology that America strutted in, made the biggest sacrifices, and blew Hitler away once our Allies failed. That’s essentially what happens here, a parody of so many American WW2 stories that ignore or belittle the great sacrifices of the British (namby pamby as in Patton) , the French (cheese-eating surrender monkeys, in practically everything) and Russians, who we were ordered to forget as allies, because they were dirty commie pinkos. I love that this movie pokes fun at that without moralizing to us about it. Because really, what war film truly shows us the horrors of war? Even Saving Private Ryan, after its bloody opening, falls into the same cliches. Night and Fog, and perhaps Army of Shadows show the pure dread of actually living through such a nightmare. Grave of the Fireflies, Gallipoli, Paths of Glory, A Midnight Clear. Does that mean every film has to deconstruct the war film, like Les Carabiniers? I should hope not.

I’ve enjoyed Tarantino’s films since I first saw Reservoir Dogs at the Angelika Film Center with my friend Jack Chan. I didn’t know what the hell we saw, but I loved it. The ironic soundtrack recalling my beloved Harold and Maude; how it was set in the present, but felt distilled from the ’70s crime films I loved. The long stretches of dialogue out of a Pinter play or the French new wave. But most of all, the bloody sense of humor that pervaded throughout. Then Pulp Fiction came and changed everything. Sure, we had to tolerate a lot of copycats, but it was like À bout de souffle (Breathless) all over again. Nothing was the same. I don’t think Tarantino can ever top that, and I’m not sure he should try too hard. To go back to Leone, if Dogs is Fistful of Dollars and Fiction is The Good, the Bad & the Ugly– has he made Once Upon a Time in the West yet? I’m not sure, but I’ll be eager to watch his movies until he does.

this way, boys…


To Only the Cinema, to discuss this month’s movie of The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club: Black Book by Paul Verhoeven.

Miracle at St. Anna

I don’t understand all the hate for this film. It’s a little sloppy in places, and takes a while to start, but once we flash back to World War 2, I was gripped. It helps that I watched The Inglorious Bastards (full review) recently; this is not Saving Private Ryan, it’s an old-school World War 2 film, injected with hokiness, but also with a modern level of gruesomeness and brutality. Lee begins by showing an old black man watching John Wayne in The Longest Day as a hint to not expect a modern gritty tale. The first thing he says is, “we fought that war, too.” Miracle at St. Anna doesn’t always work, but I enjoyed it. It is more cluttered than deep, but there is plenty to enjoy here.
An elderly postal worker shoots another old man; cops find a priceless relic in his apartment. We learn its story, with the “experimental” all-black Buffalo Soldiers regiment in Italy in ’44. We get Spike Lee black soldier stereotypes in place of the classic motley crew- there’s the white commander’s lackey, there’s the man trying to uplift his race, there’s the idiot manchild, there’s the guy with the gold tooth and luck with women, who “sets the race back a hundred years.” It’s part commentary on WW2 film conventions and movie expectations of black characters as you’d expect from Spike Lee, but has a solid, old-fashioned heart of a war story, as gritty as The Story of G.I. Joe.
The Italian campaign of World War 2 was some of the most brutal combat of the war, and its tale is the least told. The black regiments, such as those with Patton who broke through the lines, liberated the camps- rarely get mention, and especially in film. Here we get a story of 4 men trapped behind enemy lines. The artifact, the head of a statue, hangs in a net from a huge man’s belt. He’s Train, a towering baby-faced soldier with a gentle manner. He’s been carrying the artifact because he thinks rubbing it for luck has saved his bacon many times. We see his luck or its power in the first battle, as his regiment stalks across a heavily guarded river, and calls for artillery support. Their white commander- who feels slighted for being forced to lead the experimentary all-black force- refuses to believe they’ve made it so far ahead, and corrects the coordinates, bombing his own men.
As they’re cut down between friendly and German fire, only four manage to escape across enemy lines and into a small Italian village. When Train searches a barn as a possible hideout, he saves a young boy from under a collapsed beam; he feels responsible for him afterward. The boy seems touched, like Train; they give the story a fantasy quality. Stamps is the cool & collected leader of the group, and once he gathers his remaining men he gets them holed up with friendly Italians, including the mysterious and sexy Renata (Valentina Cervi, who does get topless) and her fascist-leaning father. Eventually they team with Italian partisans, including the Butterfly, who has a huge price on his head.
When they finally make contact with their regiment, they’re told to grab a German prisoner to interrogate about the enemy positions. As you can see, there’s a hell of a lot going on- and not all of it gets the detail we’d like. We see what Spike Lee is interested in, which isn’t always the plot. There are Nazi atrocities, such as the slaughter of villages to root out partisans; the detectives in the present trying to make sense of the murder in the post office; the Butterfly wondering if rebellion is worth the heavy price they pay in blood; Train and the boy, who may have “the sight,” and dealing with their bigoted superior.
This all happens in the shadow of The Sleeping Man, the mountain that resembles a man’s face, who the locals think will awaken and wipe the country clean of enemies. There’s a lot going on, and it takes a long time for us to get back to the beginning. Don’t expect too much from it, and you’ll be rewarded. It reminded me a lot of Inglorious Bastards (full review), where the journey was more important than where it took you. At 160 minutes, it’s best classified as what we used to call a Sunday movie- maybe not an epic, but a long, busy story that improves with multiple viewings.

Rating: Worthy

The Inglorious Bastards

I saw this back in the early ’80s and loved it. It had everything a growing boy needed- Nazi killin’, explosions, corny humor and gratuitous nudity. In the wake of Tarantino’s similarly named WW2 epic being released this summer, I decided to revisit this gritty classic where Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson star as soldiers escaping court martial, who end up taking out an armored train carrying a new V2 rocket.

You’ll never catch Tom Hanks doing that!

This is something we’ve rarely seen since Saving Private Ryan came on the scene- a World War 2 movie meant to be brash, unadulterated fun. Now they all need to be gritty and heroic, and while I love Band of Brothers as much as anybody, sometimes you need a movie about Bastards who accidentally kill a commando squad of American infiltrators, and redeem themselves by taking their place and completing their mission. It’s The Dirty Dozen, but we get to see their crimes.
What does inglorious mean anyway? Is it like in-famous in Three Amigos!? Does it mean really glorious? No, it means disgraceful. It’s a real exploitation title, because they’re really not that bad. There’s a thief and a forger who looks so much like a biker from central casting that it’s hard to remember this is supposed to be the ’40s, and a smooth talker named Tony who’s so obviously dubbed Italian-style that he seems even creepier when he rides the black guy with racist cracks. That’s Fred Canfield (Fred Williamson, Black Caesar) the tough-as-nails bad-ass of the group, and they’re led by rogue pilot Bob Yeager (Bo Svenson, Walking Tall Part 2), who’s in trouble for flying to see his girlfriend in between sorties. They even have a token German who’s tired of seeing Hitler destroy his country, who vows to lead them to the Swiss border.

Happiness is a warm gun

Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson make the picture- Fred is a born action star, and when he grabs his tommygun while saying “didya miss me baby?” we know all we need to know. He killed a racist officer in a fight and is sent to be hanged, but he loves killing Nazis so much that they’d be better off dropping him on Berlin like a black atomic bomb. Bo Svenson is pure cool in his aviator jacket and shades, lazing around when he’s not being a natural leader for a bunch of wild cards. We’ve got the star of what’s arguably the least exploitive blaxploitation film- Larry Cohen’s Black Caesar, which is essentially American Gangster– and the guy who replaced Joe Don Baker as Sheriff Buford Pusser.

Camelot! It’s only a model. Ssh!

The action is 70s-fake with bodies flying like ragdolls, bright red blood, and bursts of machine gun fire knocking Nazis down like bowling pins, but it’s still a blast, even when you can tell the castle is a matte painting. I was hoping they look at it and say “behold, Castle Wolfenstein!” and mutter “it’s only a model.” The mattes actually look pretty good, and when a German supply column gets totaled by bombers, seeing the destruction stretch into the distance is sobering, even after seeing Fred mow down Nazis by the score. But there’s humor, too. They wander into a stream where German W.A.C.’s are bathing, and manage a brief idyllic interlude until Fred wanders in. It still manages a coarseness similar to The Big Red One, one of my favorite war films.

They mow down Wehrmacht so casually that when they realize they killed a commando squad of Americans in German uniforms, they just pretend to be them. When they meet up with the French Resistance, the American officer waiting for the squad realizes he can either work with them, or scrap his mission- so makes them redeem themselves by participating in a risky scheme to steal an armored train carrying secret V2 rocket technology into Allied territory. The finale combines Von Ryan’s Express with the brutal body count of The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare, as they work to re-route the train, infiltrate it, and kill every Nazi S.O.B. that gets in their way. As a fan of the Castle Wolfenstein games, it felt as close to a B.J. Blazkowicz movie as we’ll get any time soon.

The Inglorious Bastards is great fun, well-paced but terribly unrealistic- not that you’ll care. If you plan on seeing Tarantino’s movie in August, you owe it to yourself to see this one first. Bo Svenson is rumored to have a cameo; not sure about Williamson, who was in From Dusk Till Dawn. Hopefully there’ll be a place for both of them.

If you don’t like Fred Williamson you are a godless commie heathen.

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