April 4, 2012


Written by Quentin Tarantino


Even three years after its release, I still find Tarantino’s boldness admirable and refreshing. He’s true to history while unapologetically changing it. Small liberties capture the time period, like the German propaganda film Nation’s Pride
or the “Jew hunter” Hans Landa. The greatest changes are so implausible they can’t be taken literally. Of course no pack of American Jews parachuted into France to be Nazis to the Nazis. Nor did they assassinate the regime in a Parisian film house. Nazis were the closest things to cartoonishly evil villains that existed in real life. And yet, few of their henchmen faced those they persecuted. Tarantino isn’t fashioning a history lesson, but a tale of revenge. He therefore serves Hitler and Goebbels up on a platter.

I personally think it’s Tarantino’s strongest, well-crafted film.

And that’s why Inglourious Basterds
is such a fascinating read. Not even a script by Quentin Tarantino - a maestro director with final cut – remains fully intact on screen. Moreover, not even Quentin Tarantino – one of the strongest writers around – gets it fully right on the page.

Here are the biggest changes between the script and the final product. All, I think, for the better.

4. Madame Mimieux

In the film, Mimieux is the name Shosanna uses in Paris to mask her Jewish identity. But in the screenplay, Madame Mimieux is the original theatre owner who catches the newly orphaned Shosanna sleeping in her theatre (page 37 in the link above) and takes her under her wing. It’s a ten-page sequence spanning four years in which Mimieux teaches Shosanna about film. How it’s handled, how it’s projected, and how sensitive it is to heat. We also see a relationship develop with Marcel and Shosanna assuming Mimieux’s identity after she dies (her death is unexplained).

Why was it cut?

Because less is more. The audience can fill the gaps in Shosanna’s rebound by cutting to the present, figuring out how she went from the woods to theatre owner. Additionally, no essential set-ups occur in the sequence. Yes, it’s more effective when an apprenticing Shosanna has a cigarette slapped from her hand when she lights up around nitrate film, but the later narration educates the audience just as well.

Scenes were actually filmed with Maggie Cheung as Mimeux, which means the choice was made in post with Tarantino’s late great editor, Sally Menke. I think aside from maybe being non-essential, the sequence stalls the beginning of the final thrust of the narrative. They were rightfully cut.

3. Operation Kino

There’s one big change in the Nation’s Pride
premiere. In the script, Donny uses the bathroom and catches the eye of a swastika-scarred Gestapo officer. A gunfight ensues which ends in his death (page 156). Why did this change? Because Tarantino had a better idea in one of the more memorable scenes of 2009: Donny mowing down Hitler and Goebbels with a machine gun. It’s aggressive and cinematic, Hitler’s plastic face chewed apart by bullets. In the script, they are blown up like everyone else.

2. The History of Donny’s Bat

Just before Donny bludgeons his first Nazi (at least, on screen), we’re taken back a year or so to his time in Boston. He buys the bat then takes it to an elderly Jewish woman (played by Cloris Leachman). He tells her he plans to “make things right” in Europe with his bat, then asks her to write the names of anyone whose life she fears for. Though initially put-off by his crass behavior, she eagerly obliges (page 34).

The scene reads quite well. It’s a struggle for Donny to get her to hear him out, much less take part in his quest, but by the end of the scene she realizes his passion and commends his strength. So why was it cut?

The sequence occurs as a flashback from the scene with The Basterds in the woods. THAT scene is another flashback from Hitler interrogating Private Butz (the surviving German soldier). Going from Hitler to The Basterds to Butz might be one tangent too many. And however effective and compelling the bat scene was, the sequence as a whole is sturdy without it.

1.) Landa’s Explanation

This was Tarantino and Menke’s wisest cut.

After her family is murdered, Shosanna flees her hiding place and takes off towards the woods. Landa steadies his Luger, pulls back the hammer, and... lowers his weapon? “Au revoir, Shosanna!” It’s a great scene on film.

In the script, the next scene is Landa driving away from the farm. He explains to his driver the many reasons he allowed an enemy of the state to flee (page 17): she’s harmless, weak, alone, has no hiding place, no one nearby will want to offer her shelter...

I can almost see why Tarantino had Landa explain himself. Reading Landa on the page is different than seeing and hearing Christoph Waltz’s Landa. On the page, perhaps you need some sort of rationale behind Landa’s action. But having Landa explain himself sort of weakens a great character both on the page and on the screen.

Again, though, Waltz’s performance removes the need for a rationale. We’re meant to always be questioning him, wondering what he really has up his sleeve with each question and action. But with a lesser actor, would the rationale have remained? Let’s hope not...

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