Black Book: Carice Van Houten gets a leg up on the Nazis.
Nazi monsters for Halloween.
Black Book (2006)
Black Book trailer
Whenever a Twitter poll asks people to name their favorite horror movie, I generally list Leni Riefenstahl’s Hitler-commissioned documentary Triumph of the Will. Forget about latex boogeymen, costumed creeps, or midgets flailing lightsabers in garbage cans. There is no more frightening monster in all God’s creation than the Nazi. This, Paul Verhoeven’s first offering in six years, was a horror/sex film of another sort. It vividly detailed the life of a beautiful Jewish singer (Carice Van Houten) forced to masquerade as a Nazi for the Dutch resistance. Before it was over, our heroine had undergone a type of defilement the screen had not experienced since Pasolini’s Salo. Remarkably, beneath the sex and sadism beat the heart of a Hollywood studio film from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. When I interviewed Verhoeven, he balked a bit when I referred to this as a genre picture. “What genre?” he shot back. “It’s very difficult to know. It’s a love story, a survival story, part adventure, thrillers and detective story…it’s hard to typify it.” I didn’t find it difficult in the least. Black Book was easily the most entertaining film of the year it came out.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Inglorious Basterds trailer
Good old Southern boy Brad Pitt leads a group of Jewish and American soldiers whose one goal is to bring back as many Nazi scalps as possible. Inglourious Basterds could be the most Hitlerious movie of its kind since Mel Brooks had the audacity to set Schicklgruber to music. (Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa is a Nazi for the ages.) Not since Jackie Brown had critical darling Quentin Tarantino, a bit of a vainglorious bastard himself, been so able to resist both his in-jokes and his particular brand of pop culture babble effectively enough to apply his knowledge of and passion for cinema to a coherent and wildly entertaining narrative. Judging by the trailer, it looked to be one giant rip-off of Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, but that was but one of the countless films Tarantino referenced. The climactic scenes in the movie theater were so precise and brilliantly executed that they almost brought a tear to my eye. Watching Tarantino film a reel change — the changeover bell, the cue mark, the projector beam switching from one booth porthole to the other — brought back cherished memories of bygone days before platters and multiplexes. But while I’m all for cinematic inter-dialogue, it’s a shame that Tarantino felt the need to duplicate the history-bending ending for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
Tarzan Triumphs trailer
After MGM shuttered their Tarzan unit, the King of the Jungle hopped a vine and swung across town to RKO. Gone were the Florida location shoots (Sherwood Forest, California, and reels of stock footage now replicated the Congo), and with them went the lavish budgets. When the war broke out, Hollywood propaganda initially depicted Nazis as stock ignoramuses, not lethal killing machines. Tarzan Triumphs appears to have been made on the cusp. The vicious Colonel Von Reichart (Stanley Ridges) slaps Boy repeatedly across the face while his underlings, Philip Van Zandt and particularly Sig Ruman, provide comic relief. Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller) doesn’t want anything to do with the Nazis, but the thought of Hitler Youth poster child Boy (Johnny Sheffield) getting kidnapped changes his mind. And while the Nazis may have figured out how to exterminate millions, they are no match for Cheetah. The pixilated primate gargles, gets pelted with fruit, and cackles on cue, but as soon as Sig Ruman lays hands on Boy, the passive chimp goes bananas. At 78 minutes, and with more than its fair share of atrocities committed against Nazis, this Tarzan is indeed a triumph...of unintentional howls.