Inglourious Basterds part 4

Okay.  So, we’ve got this movie, Inglourious Basterds.  Twenty minutes into it, it starts over.  Twenty minutes after that, it starts over again.  Now, incredibly, at one hour and four minutes, it starts over for the fourth time, with a whole new protagonist, who won’t live through the act, and introduces yet another major character.  I can’t think of another movie that’s ever done this.  Even 2001 eventually settles on a main character and follows his story to conclusion.  High and Low switches protagonists for an hour before coming back to its original protagonist, but Basterds has, so far, boasted three completely separate protagonists and is now introducing a fourth.  And it fully expects us to be invested in this brand new character.

Archie Hicox is a British film critic (!) who has become a lieutenant in the British army.  What does Hicox want?  From his resume, it seems like Hicox would like nothing better than to do what I do (or what Tarantino does): he wishes to sit around thinking about movies.  War, however, has pressed him into the business of killing Nazis, and, as Raine says, "Cousin, business is a-boomin’."  How is Hicox different from Raine?  Well, he isn’t as cheerfully bloodthirsty as Raine, although he doesn’t have any problem killing the enemy when he’s asked to.  Maybe he kills out of a sense of duty and honor to queen and country, or maybe he hides his homicidal impulses behind a scrim of cool manners and respectability.  I’m inclined to believe the former: Hicox does what he must, but he is, at heart, an aesthete.  He’s sufficiently removed from the passions of WWII to think of Goebbels’s propaganda machine as a movie studio, and he spends time analyzing movie-attendance trends when he should probably be thinking about troop movements.

In any case, Act IV of Inglourious Basterds begins with a relatively straightforward briefing scene, where Hicox is given his mission by his superiors, Gen Fenech and Winston Churchill.  Hicox explains what he knows about the German movie industry, and Fenech explains his plot to blow up the theater where the Zoller vehicle, Nation’s Pride, will premiere.

So, Act III ends with Shoshanna plotting to blow up the theater, and Act IV begins with a completely different, government-sponsored, military plot to blow up the theater.  Why two plots, by two different teams who have no knowledge of each other, to reach the exact same end?  I’m actually not sure, but I hope to figure that out by the end of this analysis.  One thing is for sure, the fact that there are two plots to blow up the theater does not, in any way, detract from the suspense of is the theater going to get blown up?  Rather, it adds to it — with two teams of people trying to blow up the theater, the theater had damn well better get blown up, and yet, we also know that the theater can’t get blown up, because we know that the Nazi high command was not killed in a movie theater in Paris in 1944.  This, it turns out, is the greatest trick Tarantino has up his narrative sleeve, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

American movies, in Goebbels’s view, are an affront to Nazism not unlike Jesse Owens — the studios are run by Jews, and are cranking out tons of propaganda of their own.  He sees his war not so much on battlefields but in movie theaters.  Which is, of course, how Tarantino sees just about everything.  There is, in the end, no "reality" for Tarantino, only movies, an idea Basterds makes forcefully clear.

Hicox’s mission: team up with Raine and his Basterds, then team up with actess Bridget von Hammersmark, attend the premiere of Nation’s Pride with Hugo Stiglitz and Wilhelm Wicki, and, posing as a German officers, blow up the theater.

Next, we have a brief scene with Hicox, Raine and the Basterds, where Raine complains about the location of the meet-up with von Hammersmark and Stiglitz smolders.  Like the briefing scene at the top of the act, it is relatively straightforward, and exists to build suspense for the act’s centerpiece, the staggering 20-minute tavern scene that follows.

At the top of the tavern scene, we see von Hammersmark playing a party game with some German soldiers.  The game, as luck would have it, concerns identity, with each player trying to guess who he or she is. 

The first player we see bears the identity ‘Winnetou."  Winnetou, for those unaware, is a character created by German writer Karl May.  May was a hugely popular writer of, of all things, Old West adventures.  Winnetou was the Noble Savage to cowboy Old Shatterhand.  He was also, as it happens, an Apache, as is, in part, Raine (or so he says).  The Shatterhand adventures were huge in Germany for generations, with many admirers, including Einstein, Schweitzer and Hitler.

As the soldier tries to guess Winnetou’s name, von Hammersmark has a curious bit of dialogue — she explains that the rules of the game apply not to the creator of the character, but only to the character him-or-her-self.  "The nationality of the author has nothing to do with the nationality of the character," she says.  Maybe it’s just me, but it appears Tarantino is trying to say something about his own movie here — after all, most of the characters pretend to be some nationality or other they’re not at some point or other during the narrative.  But also, I think there’s a subtle invitation to see the Germans as something other than Germans.  But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

So here comes Hicox, Stiglitz and Wicki, down into the tavern.  Von Hammersmark is an actress, and Hicox and his team find themselves putting on a little show, a little improvised play.  The drunken German soldiers are a surprise, but one of the rules of improv is to never say "no," so von Hammersmark, the lead in this play, says "yes" to everything — yes, the drunken soldiers can stay, yes, she’ll sign an autograph for Sgt Wilhelm for his newborn son, yes, the SS officer who saunters in is welcome to join them.  Hicox does his best to keep up with all this improvisation, but he finds, eventually, that the improv style backs him into a corner. 

The SS officer, Maj Hellstrom, very much considers himself a Landa type — perhaps he even knows Landa, or has studied his work.  But Hellstrom doesn’t know, in the way Landa knows; he only has suspicions.  And so he plays the fool and plays the identity game, but he’s a mere apprentice to the game Landa has mastered.  (His identity is "King Kong," and he makes the joke of first guessing "the Negro in America" — both came from jungles, were brought to the US in a ship, in chains, and displayed in chains, and mercilessly exploited by whites.  Is Hellstrom, like Goebbels, a towering racist, or is he merely a canny observer?)

Hellstrom senses Hicox isn’t who he says he is, and Hicox offers up the first defense he can think of: he was in a movie!  Not just any movie, but a GW Pabst movie, starring Leni Riefenstahl!  Not just any movie, but the same movie that was playing at Shoshanna’s theater at the top of Act III!  His logic being, if you can’t believe a guy who was in a movie is who he says he is, who can you believe?  And indeed, Hellstrom is almost swayed.  But the improv-turned-interrogation (each act features a lengthy interrogation scene) goes on too long — Hicox and von Hammersmark keep offering explanations for things they shouldn’t need to offer explanations for, if Hicox were indeed who he says he is.  What’s more, Wicki never comes to Hicox’s aide, and Stiglitz looks ready to spit bullets as he reminisces about being whipped at the hands of the SS.

(Over at the next table, the identity game continues.  "Queen Christina?" asks a player.  No, it turns out, Mata Hari.  One character is a loyal nationalist, the other a treacherous spy, both were played in movies by Greta Garbo — a sly joke about the nature of von Hammersmark’s improv.)

The improv turns disastrous as Hicox demands that Hellstrom leaves, and Hellstrom drives in the wedge by insisting that the choice of leaving or staying is von Hammersmark.  There is no place for Hicox to go now, he’s cooked no matter what happens.  Von Hammersmark insists that Hellstrom stay, again, saying "yes" to everything in order to keep the improv going.  Hicox has let the mission take precedence over the performance and his refusal to improvise properly is all Hellstrom needs to press his case.

The worm turns, and, after 20 minutes of suffocating suspense, everyone in the tavern winds up dead, except for von Hammersmark and Sgt Wilhelm, the soldier with the newborn boy. Hicox, the protagonist we’ve been following for the past half-hour, is dead and gone without even the benefit of a close-up or a dying word, dead because he cracked out of turn.  

Raine arrives to extricate von Hammersmark from the tavern, and negotiates a deal with Wilhelm: let von Hammersmark go, and Raine won’t kill him.  In spite of Raine’s lust for Nazi blood, I believe him in his negotiations with Wilhelm; Raine has found himself in a situation where the bigger mission is more important than the life of a man, Nazi or not.  Of course, Wilhelm’s deal with Raine cuts no ice with von Hammersmark, who drops Wilhelm with one shot and proves herself to be a little secret Stiglitz.

The action now moves to a veterinarian’s office, and yet another interrogation.  Raine has none of Landa’s charm or Hellstrom’s menace, he’s just got brute force; he jams his finger into von Hammersmark’s wound to get the information he needs.  Von Hammersmark passes her test of loyalty, and proceeds to try to sell the plan of continuing with the blowing-up-the-theater plan anyway.  Her big sales pitch is capped with the revelation that Hitler himself will be at the Zoller premiere.  With stakes like that, Raine cannot help but find a way to get to the theater, and so yet another plan to blow up the theater is hatched.  And now we know that theater ain’t never blowing up, because we know for sure that Hitler didn’t die in no blown-up Paris theater.

Meanwhile, who shows up at the tavern but Landa!  Which I find remarkable only because it seems that Landa’s duties are rather eclectic.  In 1941 he’s hunting stray Jews in rural France, in 1944 he’s running Goebbels’s security operation in Paris, and tonight he’s investigating what appears to be an ambush in a rural tavern.  I would think, the night before the Nation’s Pride premiere, he’d have other matters to attend to, but there is no rest for Landa, and here he is, the great detective, sifting through the wreckage of the tavern and putting together the pieces.  Like Cinderella’s prince, he finds von Hammersmark’s shoe at the scene of the crime, but von Hammersmark is more helpful than Cinderella, she has left her autograph as well, her autograph for the son of the man she killed.

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46 Responses to “Inglourious Basterds part 4”
  1. gummitch says:

    …we know for sure that Hitler didn’t die in no blown-up Paris theater

    I also know for sure that Hitler only visited Paris once, in 1940, just after the fall of France. So he definitely shouldn’t be in Paris in 1944, at a time just after (I think) the allied invasion of Normandy. He should be in a bunker somewhere in Germany waiting for von Stauffenberg to try to blow him up.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In an interesting bit of real-life timing, we don’t know what happened to Hitler, now. The skull the KGB has always claimed is Hitler’s from his bunker was tested by scientists recently and proven to be female.

  3. Anonymous says:


    Any significance to the name with regards to the “Wilhelm scream?” I noticed at least one Wilhelm scream in the full cut of Nation’s Pride on the DVD, but I didn’t catch any in Basterds itself.

    It seems like the kind of movie in-joke QT would imbue with significance in this film, but I’m not smart enough to suss out the meaning, if any.
    – Doctor Handsome

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Run Lola Run” starts over twice with a different conclusion and I think “Sliding Doors” is another movie that replays the tape so to speak. Not having seen this movie, I don’t know if this is what you are getting at?

    • Anonymous says:


      • gazblow says:

        You are correct, Anonymous Replier. Todd’s point is that the Protagonist has changed four times in this movie: Landa then Raine then Shoshonna then Hicox (and we’re barely 2/3 of the way through). In Run Lola Run, Lola is always the protagonist each time the story restarts. In Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow is the protagonist in both iterations of the story.

  5. jbacardi says:

    You just know a movie’s got something going for it when a filmmaker can randomly insert some outrageous stunt casting (Mike Myers) in and it works very well. I knew Myers was going to be in this, and it took me a minute or two to realize that was him…

  6. spiralstairs says:

    And in another bit on nationality, everyone’s cover is blown by the Basterd’s gesture for more drinks. The matter of which fingers you hold up shows him for who he really is, after passing the rest of the tests. What makes sense to an Englishman looks completely ass-backwards to a German.

    • greyaenigma says:

      Which reminds me that Hicox’s life (in the movie) is bookended by speaking English and ordering drinks. Maybe just a coincidence, of course.

  7. He’s not my favorite filmmaker by any stretch, but as a writer, QT always makes me rethink what’s possible from a story perspective. That might make whether or not I actually enjoy his movies a moot point.

  8. samedietc says:

    Accents and foreign languages

    1) I think the Karl May issue is important not just for the Apache-ness of Winnetou, but also for what May’s story says about the possibility of imagination / faking it: he wrote most of his books without visiting the places he wrote about (and the story is that he started writing his adventures in the Old West when he was in jail).

    2) About Hammersmark’s comment that characters’ nationalities are their own, not their creator’s: it’s a line that I think many of us would find unobjectionable, and I think we’re supposed to find it unobjectionable–the pretty German traitor is schooling the naive, unkultured Germans.

    But it is a weird thing to say in relation to Winnetou the Apache–how could an Apache be an American? I think there’s a deeper issue here about drawing boundaries or figuring out what hybrids/hyphens are possible. The Apache-American makes me think of the German propaganda about the International Jew–that the Jew could never be a good German, etc. (Which is why I thought your comment about Shoshanna’s costume–pretending to be a French civilian–was pretty funny in a way: b/c if you put it that way, her costume is who she really is–she is a French civilian, who happens to be Jewish.)

    And then there’s the movie, Nation’s Pride… about which I don’t have more to say at the moment, other than it reemphasizes the importance of nationality here.

    3) About Hellstromm as mini-Landa, I want to point out a difference that might make a difference: although Hellstromm shows that he knows English at the end, Landa’s facility with foreign languages is slightly different than Hellstromm’s facility with accents. I’m not sure exactly what point I take away from this, only that it reminds me of Landa’s boast that he can think like other people while the average German soldier can only think like a German.

  9. I think this is the section of the narrative I found most awkward, probably because we’re being introduced to another protagonist whom we’d never met before (who ends up dying at the end of the sequence), and also because the second, seemingly-redundant plan to blow up the movie theater is put into play.

    And why involve the British at all? It’d be much simpler if Hicox were one of the Basterds we’d already met. Then we’d get a scene with him and Raine and other Basterds talking about the mission, instead of spending time with an inexplicably-cast Mike Myers and another character or two we’ll never see again. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see the point of adding more characters to do jobs previously-introduced characters could do just as well, unless it’s just to give us new protagonists for each interlocking “chapter.”

    The masterfully-crafted suspense sequence works like gangbusters as a set piece in and of itself, and earns its length as one, but I don’t think it really works storywise for me – it feels like Tarantino’s going the long way around.

    • curt_holman says:


      I was wondering about the inclusion of the British characters, and it struck me that they exist in sharp contrast to the Americans. Hicox, as Todd points out, is an aesthete, and his chummy briefing scene with Fenech and Churchill is witty in an understated, highly “British” way. I think Tarantino presents gentleman critic Hicox and manly man Raine as English and American archetypes. I’m not sure if we’re meant to read anything into the fact that Hicox blows his cover as a German through dumb luck and dies, while Raine offers an outrageously transparent masquerade as an Italian and triumphs.

      When I watched the movie and noted the game going on in the cellar, and then saw the Gestapo officer join them at the table, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Don’t tell me QT’s going to make us watch a whole round of this game!”

      • Re: Hicox

        Raine “triumphs” only because of Landa, though – Landa allows his men to go inside the theatre, Landa allows Raine to live, and its Landa’s misreading of Raine that allows Raine to carve up Landa’s forehead at the end, giving Raine the last word after having to sit through a climax belonging to Landa. Raine blows his cover as well, but Landa has bigger fish to fry.

        I just don’t think Hicox being British adds enough to the film to balance out the fact that we’re meeting a totally new character who only lives till the end of the same chapter we meet him in. Which isn’t bad by itself, but at this point in the movie it feels to me like one protagonist switch too many. Maybe because, unlike, say, Butch’s story in Pulp Fiction, there’s the sense of it being totally unnecessary, as it could just as easily be someone else we already knew, and it’s still the same story this sequence serves. Pulp Fiction had three interlocking stories with three different protagonists, Inglourious Basterds has two interlocking stories with at least four protagonists. It feels overly complicated to me.

        • ninja_gamer says:

          Re: Hicox

          I thought that the reason Hicox joins the Basterds was because he knew of the intelligence and the plan to blow up the theater. This was not a plan they could broadcast over the radio to the Basterds and they would likely not trust a German defector either, so the only logical way to bring in the Basterds was with a Allied officer.

    • glumpish says:

      Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see the point of adding more characters to do jobs previously-introduced characters could do just as well, unless it’s just to give us new protagonists for each interlocking “chapter.”

      Hicox is in a British spy movie, the same way that Raine is in an American adventure movie, and Shoshanna is in a French psychological thriller. I loved his intro scene because it is so VERY British — and such a contrast to Raine’s. I think it’s necessary; if he was first introduced in a scene meeting with the Basterds, he’d be a secondary character in their movie, not the star of his own.

  10. curt_holman says:

    Native tongue

    One of my favorite things about ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is QT’s treatment of language: when characters speak English, when they don’t, and when QT uses subtitles, and when he doesn’t. I think he’s really grooving on the contrast and musicality of the different “tongues.”

    I also think he’s borrowing a technique that Mel Gibson used in ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (and may have preceded it). In ‘Passion,’ if memory serves me right, Gibson used subtitles for the Aramaic of Jesus and most of the characters, but pointedly did not use subtitles for the Latin of the brutal centurions. Having characters suddenly speak in a language we couldn’t understand build a sense of dread and fear of the other/unknown.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Native tongue

      Even more interesting is that, in the Act III scenes, we get French subtitles for the French speakers but none for the German speakers. In Act IV that’s reversed — we get to know the Germans while the French tavern staff go untranslated.

    • swan_tower says:

      Re: Native tongue

      I’m fascinated by that point in general — when foreign languages are used and when they aren’t, when they’re subtitled and when they aren’t, when characters switch between tongues, even what accents are used. (For example, I’ve always been struck by the contrast in Enemy at the Gates between British actors for the Russian characters, and Americans for the Germans. It’s the reverse of what you’d expect.)

      If you know of any other films that play around with this in interesting ways, I’d love to hear about them.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Re: Native tongue

        I’m fascinated by this sort of thing myself. If I recall correctly, there’s a gag in Volunteers where the English starts getting subtitled, and people start getting confused.

        And, of course, there’s the language switch in Red October.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Native tongue

      To add a small aside to your aside: I heard that Gibson originally planned to use no subtitles whatsoever, but that the studio or distributor insisted on subtitling at least the Aramaic.

  11. perich says:

    You’ve largely covered the same points I covered in my review of Inglourious Basterds, albeit much more literately, so I haven’t had much to say. I eagerly await each of these installments.

    One tidbit, which your talk about characters relating through movies reminded me of: when Hugo Stiglitz has his pistol at the SS Major’s balls, he growls that “at this range, I’m a real Friedrich Zoller.” So far we’ve had characters identifying with movie stars, but this is a delicious new level of meta: a character identifying with the star of a movie that doesn’t exist in the real world. This confirms Zoller’s stardom: he’s so famous in the Reich that people cite him as a sharpshooter.

    • Excellent point – I doubt I myself noticed when I saw it in the theatre, because I’m terrible at remembering character names even during a film.

    • Anonymous says:

      In the first scene, Landa’s huge pipe is a metaphor for manhood and underscores how he humiliates LaPadite. In the second scene, Aldo’s knife represents the same as he humiliates/scars Butz.

      This interrogation gives us actual, spoken threats to manhood (what was subtext is now overt, spoken text). And. expanding on your idea of the meta-threat – Stiglitz compares himself to Zoller, who has been subtly trying to approach Shoshanna with his manhood and will, similarly, go from subtle innuendos and implications to spoken threats in the next chapter.

      Is Tarantino saying all wars (or war movies) are really dick-measuring contests? I have no idea.

      -Le Ted

  12. Anonymous says:


    Hicox’s brief appearance as a protagonist is one of those jarring structural oddities that makes this film so unique. It’s obvious that he has a big metaphorical significance in a movie that’s about the power of the movies.

    He’s the film critic, so of course he’s charming, smart, cocky, and ultimately inept. He screws up, endangers everyone, and drives the bad end you know is coming: These people can’t possibly succeed in blowing up the theater, because we all know how the war turns out.

    So he has both a metaphorical role and a narrative one, in that his mistakes help raise the stakes and lead to what we assume will be the conclusion.


    • Re: Hicox

      So maybe the point is that Hicox cannot blow up the theater/kill or commit other violence/create art, which are frequently presented as the same thing here because he is a film critic and can only react to what others have created. It’s up to the “artists” – Shoshanna most obviously, Raine, maybe even Landa and Zoller – to actually create the art or violence or combination of the two.

      Or maybe this is blindingly obvious and I’m just dumb for not having noticed it before.

      • Todd says:

        Re: Hicox

        Well, but Hicox has no trouble shooting Hellstrom in the testicles. Everything else happens too fast for me to know whether or not he kills anyone.

  13. mimitabu says:

    liking this commentary. i know wrote some responses in your original IB posts, but for now i think my thoughts are too muddled and i’ll mainly sit out.

    however, i will chime in to point out that the bar scene (and the theater plan) contain, if i’m not mistaken, easily the biggest plot hole in the movie: stiglitz is supposedly almost as infamous as zoller is famous (especially to the high command and hitler’s security!!). the idea that he would be involved with the incognito bomb plot, or (maybe to a lesser degree) not get recognized in the bar is absurd.

    that said, i *loved* how they built up stiglitz and his brutality, then killed him off unceremoniously. i love every minute of the movie, actually.

    • Todd says:

      That occurred to me too. How Stiglitz was supposed to walk into a premiere, dressed in a German uniform (or even a tux), and not be recognized, I have no idea.

    • chrispiers says:

      The Allies didn’t know about the bomb plot when they sent Stiglitz into the bar. And Aldo was pissed about the whole thing. The bar wasn’t supposed to be full of Nazis, either.

  14. joedizzy says:


    One thing that amused me about the Hicox scene was that the actor has a slight German accent during the briefing, and an audibly English one during the tavern scene.

    Considering that Fassbender is fluent in both languages, I cannot help but think this is intentional.

  15. dougo says:

    The switching-characters comment makes me think of Slacker, but nobody gets enough screen time in that film to even be called a protagonist.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Landa and Hellstrom do know each other. They would at least have seen each other at Shoshanna’s strudel scene. Hellstrom is the nazi that enacts Zoller’s invite. And Hellstrom knows every German worth knowing in France.

    And Hellstrom uses very german humour in this part of the movie. What I found great about the movie wasn’t that people are actors with language skills, but they really played up to their nation’s character. Hicox’s super brittishness is what had me thinking what would catch him up. Not the accent but the mannerisms and love of class distinction. And that’s was what happened, he lost because of his English fingers.

    Landa’s entrance isn’t unreasonable I think, he’s in charge of security for the event. A battle near by would certainly be on the radar, there wasn’t a nation around at that time that wasn’t worried about spies. This wasn’t a tavern fight, this was a gun battle.


  17. protomodo says:

    Why two plots, by two different teams who have no knowledge of each other

    “Why two plots, by two different teams who have no knowledge of each other, to reach the exact same end? I’m actually not sure, but I hope to figure that out by the end of this analysis.”

    This is an interesting question – I look forward to your conclusions.

    “…we also know that the theater can’t get blown up, because we know that the Nazi high command was not killed in a movie theater in Paris in 1944. This, it turns out, is the greatest trick Tarantino has up his narrative sleeve, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves….He sees his war not so much on battlefields but in movie theaters. Which is, of course, how Tarantino sees just about everything. There is, in the end, no “reality” for Tarantino, only movies, an idea Basterds makes forcefully clear.”

    Right, in the opening sequence Landa tells LaPedite, “I love rumors, facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false are often revealing.” I think Landa could be speaking for Tarantino. For nothing could be plainer than the fact that QT is playing with reality here. As Todd pointed out in another section in this analysis, reputation (and rumor) is one of the recurring themes of this story. There are reputations and rumors about Landa, about Raine, about “The Bear Jew”, etc. It turns out that even the key piece of intelligence that Von Hammersmark passes to the British is not totally true; the venue for the movie gets changed at the last minute, so even the intelligence has the quality of rumor. At his point in the movie, n can’t help but wonder, how are Hitler and Goebbels going to avoid getting killed by one of these teams… wait a minute!