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Interview – Quentin Tarantino on His Movie Influences

To hear Tarantino tell it, it was the time he spent watching old World War II movies that gave him the confidence to embark on “Inglourious Basterds.” “It wasn’t that I needed permission,” he explains. “But what really struck me was that these were films made by directors who’d had to flee their country because of Hitler, and yet the movies they made weren’t all terror or horror. In fact, while they definitely showed the Nazis and their cruelty, they were adventure films, whether you’re talking about ‘Hangmen Also Die’ or ‘Reunion in France’ or ‘To Be or Not to Be’ or ‘O.S.S.,’ an Alan Ladd film that’s like a prequel to ‘The Good Shepherd.’ 

“They were fun and thrilling and exciting and, most amazingly, they had a lot of comedy in them, which really made an impact on me. I mean, for every movie with a sadistic Nazi, there’s one with a Nazi who’s more of a buffoon or a figure of ridicule.”

Tarantino says he loved listening to the dialogue–what he calls the “great ’40s turns of phrases”–that permeated the films. “The slang is really cool,” he says. “People were always calling each other ‘killer dillers,’ which I kept trying to work into ‘Basterds,’ though I never found a place for it. But that’s why you watch the movie from a period–you want to hear how people really talked.”


Tarantino essentially set up a screening series of relevant films for most of his actors. For Melanie Laurent, who plays Shosanna Dreyfus, Tarantino says: “I wanted her to pretty much watch every movie about people fighting behind enemy lines. The first movie I always had in mind was ‘Operation Amsterdam’ with Peter Finch and Eva Bartok, even though Shosannah became a very different sort of character in our film.”

Tarantino had Mike Myers, who plays Ed Fenech, watch a lot of old ’40s films with Alan Napier, who often played opposite George Sanders (and ended up being immortalized as Alfred in the “Batman” TV series). “Mike would watch the movies and then ask me, ‘You want me to do that?’–meaning Alan Napier–and I’d say, ‘Yeah, do that.’ ”  

Tarantino envisioned Michael Fassbender, who plays Archie Hicox, as a George Sanders type of smoothie. “So I had him watch all the old ‘The Saint’ movies with Sanders, just to soak up his highly articulated speech and his woody manner.” 

For Diane Kruger, who plays Bridget Von Hammersmark, a sultry double agent, Tarantino steeped her in the career of Ilona Massey, a now-forgotten Hungarian singer who was brought to Hollywood when the studios were raiding Hungary and Poland for Marlena Dietrich knockoffs. Tarantino had Kruger watch Massey’s “International Lady,” a ’40s-era spy film, where it turned out that Massey wore pretty much the same outfit Tarantino’s costume designer had made up for Kruger.

“That’s an example of where I didn’t want Diane to just be Dietrich. But with my characters, I really need to know their history, so I had to figure out Bridget’s whole filmography. So in my mind, I decided that Universal had come to Bridget–the way the studios had done to Massey–and offered her a contract, but she was savvy enough to know that if she went to Universal and she didn’t hit right away, she’d be stuck doing Frankenstein movies, which is exactly like Ilona Massey’s real career!”


It begins to feel a little bit like a hall of mirrors but this is how Tarantino’s imagination really works, feeding off his fantasies inspired by his favorite old movies. One day, on the “Basterds” set, he was stymied by how to shoot part of the film’s pivotal basement tavern scene. “I thought what we’d done was kinda boring, so at the end of the day, I said, ‘Let’s do the scene like Josef von Sternberg would’ve done it.’ “

It turns out Tarantino had only recently fallen in love with Von Sternberg, in part because Tarantino had never been a Dietrich fan. But after he saw one Von Sternberg film, he couldn’t stop. The director’s seductive, opulent style began to permeate Tarantino’s imagination.

“So there I was on the set, doing this tracking shot, sweeping past all the bottles on the bar, as my characters came in to sit down and everything started popping again,” Tarantino says, his voice crackling with enthusiasm. “It was great. It was the kind of luxurious camera move that I imagined Von Sternberg would’ve done, except now I was behind the camera. I figured, if I’m gonna shoot actresses in an exquisite ’40s style, who better to look to for inspiration?”    

Photo of Quentin Tarantino by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Scene from “Inglourious Basterds” by Francois Duhamel / The Weinstein Co.

Posted via web from MovieDriver – Hollywood Teamster

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