Ghouls, guffaws and Nazis: Maybe I just don’t understand Hollywood’s idea of a comedy

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I spent some time recently catching up on movies I missed over the last year or so. With a few exceptions, it was wasted time. I was left wondering whether Hollywood lacks a brain or a soul. Or is it both?

It was not always this way. Once upon a time Hollywood churned out some pretty good movies: Casablanca, Patton, Gone with the Wind, African Queen, On the Waterfront, to name just a few. And not only oldies. The other day I went to see The King’s Speech and found it deserving of the Oscars it received.

I happen to like all kinds of films, especially action flicks. The other day I rented all three of the Bourne movies and held my breath as Matt Damon ran and ran and ran and killed and killed and killed. Yes, they are formulaic, but it was fun to watch them and I hope they make more.

The movie that really set me off and prompted this diatribe was Inglourious Basterds. I would not have rented it but for the honorable mentions it got on the 2010 Oscar Night. It seemed that every other celebrity manning the mike raved about it.

I am tempted to reveal the ending so that you will not want to watch it. Not that the ending was anything special. It was on par with the rest of Quentin Tarantino’s film making—full of gratuitous violence, silly plotting, and bad acting.

Basterds is about an elite unit of GIs parachuted into occupied France in WWII to wreak havoc on the German forces. Led by Brad Pitt (one of filmdom’s candidates for worst actor ever), the unit specializes in ambushing German soldiers and then scalping them.

Viewers are spared no details of the scalpers’ work. Compared to Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, these guys are artists. Good ol’ Brad, mustache and all, speaking in a Southern accent that is all biscuits and gravy, tells his boys that that they must hate Germans as much as he does. Then off they go.

All of this presumably takes place starting in 1941and covers a period ending in 1944. No one seems to care that Germany did not declare war on America until the end of 1941. Americans did not invade France until 1944. To top it off the Nazis and Hitler are made to look incompetent, which does a disservice to the efficiency of the Nazi war machine. The evil of those people was compounded by how effective they were at murder. Yes, I am aware that the film’s GIs were Jewish Americans with every reason to hate Nazis. But a movie that features Jews scalping Nazis does not automatically rate four stars. The Holocaust was too horrible an event to play fast and loose with the facts.

I agree that there have been excellent films that portrayed the Nazis as nincompoops. To Be or Not to Be, a 1942 Jack Benny opus, comes to mind. But that film was made during the war when the full measure of Nazi atrocities was not understood, and it did not feature gory violence. Nobody lost his scalp.

Oh well, it’s only history. Lots of WWII movies played fast and loose with the facts. Yes, I respond, but those movies contained some elements of credibility. Things might—just might—have happened that way. Fiction they were, but there was an external and internal consistency to those films. In other words, they were well enough plotted and acted that you were justified in granting them a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

I grant that I may have missed the key to understanding this film. Maybe it was a modern comedy and I just didn’t get it. My problem may be that I do not watch enough of the gore that passes for horror these days. Maybe I lack a modern sense of humor.

I did watch a pretty ghoulish movie a night later. Titled I Am Legend, as far as I could see, it was a remake of a 70s film, The Omega Man, starring Charleston Heston. In this version Will Smith is the last man on earth following a virus outbreak that takes out the rest of humankind.

Sharing the eerie, deserted city with Will, however, is a species of subhuman that can only come out at night a la vampires. Will, a scientist, is working on a vaccine for the rabies-like disease, but he has to capture and kill dozens of the sub humans so he can conduct experiments. Understandably, this makes the rest of them angry and they run howling after him all over New York. There’s a lot of chasing and shooting (for most of the movie only Will is armed).

Just when the ghoulish bad guys are about to win, peace and understanding fall like a dew upon the combatants. Will comes to understand they really do have feelings and are capable of love. They quit howling and slobbering and walk off into the sunset. A good scary movie is ruined by multicultural political correctness. Yuck!

I swear that as the ghouls marched off I heard the ghost of Charleston Heston chuckling in the background. Yet, except for the PC ending, the movie was scarily enjoyable. Will Smith is a pretty good actor. Unfortunately for him, he had a real carpet chewer as a co-star—a German shepherd who plays the role of his sidekick and almost steals the show. Someone should have lent that German to the studio that made Basterds. He might have saved the movie.

About Stan Latreille 65 Articles
Stan Latreille is a novelist, blogger, lawyer, former newspaperman, and a retired Circuit Court judge. He is the author of "Perjury" and is working on a new novel, tentatively titled "Absolution."