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Now or Then – Inglourious Basterds or Once Upon a Time in the West?

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Now: Inglourious Basterds (2009)Then: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The words “Once upon a time…in Nazi-Occupied France” kick off Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and they do more than just position the movie as an historical fable. They also point the way to the obsessively referential director’s true inspiration for his ultraviolent epic: For while the director has said that he initially wanted to make a Dirty Dozen-style “men on a mission” movie, any movie fan will be struck by the similarities between
QT’s latest and Italian maestro Sergio Leone’s 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West. At its heart, Basterds is a Spaghetti Western transported to ’40s France, complete with Ennio Morricone music cues — and there’s a lot more that unites these two bloody revenge fantasies.

The Opening Massacre and Its Lone Survivor

Inglourious Basterds: As freshly laundered sheets flap in the wind, Nazis come to the home of a French dairy farmer who has been sheltering Jews, and blow the refugees away — all except Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), who manages to run too fast for them.

Once Upon a Time in the West: As freshly laundered sheets flap in the wind, hitmen working for a railroad baron kill a farmer’s family in order to claim his land — all except his new wife Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale), who is arriving by train at that very moment.

The Scheming Enforcer
Inglourious Basterds: Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) is the notoriously brutal Nazi “Jew Hunter” who stages the opening slaughter. Nevertheless, he later tries to negotiate a deal for a cushy American retirement, in exchange for helping the Basterds.

Once Upon a Time in the West: Frank (Henry Fonda) is the notoriously brutal gunfighter who stages the opening slaughter. Nevertheless, he later entertains the idea of marrying Jill to get her land — only to decide that he’d be a bad husband. And what’s more…

Third Party Avengers
Inglourious Basterds: The titular Basterds are a group of American Jewish soldiers focused on killing Nazis, as payback for their crimes.

Once Upon a Time in the West: Harmonica (Charles Bronson) is a mixed-race gunfighter focused on killing Frank. He spends much of his time calmly repeating the names of Frank’s many victims.

An Arch-Villain with Romantic Dreams

Inglourious Basterds: Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, may be ruthless, but he’s also a wannabe-film auteur who styles himself after David O. Selznick; he cries when the Fuhrer praises his work.

Once Upon a Time in the West: Railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) may be ruthless, but he also dreams of reaching the Pacific before he dies; he often looks longingly at a painting of the sea.

The Revelatory Climax
Inglourious Basterds: All the surviving players converge on a cinema operated by Shosanna, now in disguise. As the Nazi high-command is shot and burnt to a crisp, she runs a homemade film that reveals her Jewish origins.

Once Upon a Time in the West: All the surviving players converge on the farm that Jill now operates. As he shoots Frank, Harmonica reveals to him that he’s the younger brother of a man Frank hanged many years ago.

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