Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Before there was Inglourious Basterds (or, for that matter, Django Unchained), there was... Hitler -- Dead or Alive

During an on-line discussion tonight with my Variety colleague Steven Gaydos, I mentioned that, while teaching a course about war movies a few years back, I would occasionally screen the final minutes of Hitler -- Dead or Alive, an ultra-low-budget 1942 B-movie starring Ward Bond as an ex-con who tries to collect a bounty on Adolf Hitler. No, seriously.

Why did I unleash this on unsuspecting students? Because even though the movie was an unabashedly cheesy Poverty Row production -- which likely explains why Gaydos, a gentleman of refined tastes, had never heard of it -- it dared to be a fantasy-fulfilling slice of cheese: At the end of the flick, Hitler is shot by Nazis who don't recognize him after Bond and his buddies shave off Der Fuehrer's mustache. Again, seriously.

Well, OK, maybe not seriously seriously. But that's just what happens in the film. Start looking around the 1:04 point, and you'll see what I mean.

Years later, when I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, I couldn't help being reminded of Hitler -- Dead or Alive. But I swear: It wasn't until tonight that I learned that Tarantino had been a fan of the '42 film. As he told Playboy in a November 2012 interview to promote Django Unchained:

When it came to Inglourious Basterds, there was a movie done in 1942, Hitler —Dead or Alive. It was just as America had entered the war. A rich guy offers a million-dollar bounty on Hitler’s life. Three gangsters come up with a plan to kill Hitler. They parachute into Berlin and work their way to where Hitler is. It’s a wacky movie that goes from being serious to very funny. The gangsters get Hitler, and when they start beating the fuck out of him, it is just so enjoyable. They shave his mustache off, cut off that lock of hair and take his shit off so he looks like a regular guy. The Nazis show up, and Hitler, who doesn’t look like Hitler anymore, is like, “Hey, it’s me!” And they beat the shit out of him. I thought, Wow, this is fucking hysterical.

Yes, it is. Indeed, it's arguably funnier than a far more famous movie co-written its director, Nick Grinde.

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