Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds takes place during World War II, but how much of the story is actually true? A fascinating, fictional assassination of Adolf Hitler, the 2009 film is one of Tarantino's most successful. Produced for $70 million, the 2009 film earned over $321 million at the box office. In addition, Inglourious Basterds received eight Academy Award nominations, with Christoph Waltz taking home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Inglourious Basterds stars Brad Pitt as Aldo "The Apache" Raine, the leader of a Nazi-hunting military unit. The titular group is comprised of eight Jewish-American men who have become living legends thanks to their personal accomplishments during World War II. Tarantino’s protege Eli Roth co-stars as Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, an Inglourious Basterd who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat. The aforementioned Waltz portrays Hans Landa, a Nazi official known as the “Jew Hunter.” In the primary female role, French actress Mélanie Laurent plays Shosanna Dreyfus, a Jewish woman who changes her name to Emmanuelle Mimieux after her family is murdered by Landa's men during the opening chapter. Inglourious Basterds follows the titular group while setting up a plot to assassinate high-ranking Nazis, including Adolf Hitler, at a French movie theater, owned by Mimieux. The film ends with the venue being set ablaze, trapping everybody inside. Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, are murdered before the theatre burns to the ground.
Tarantino spent ten years working on the script for Inglourious Basterds, but while he carefully recreates the feeling of wartime movies, it's far from a true story. Here’s how he blended historical facts with pure fiction.
The Jew Hunter Is Fake (But The Concept Is Definitely Real)
Hans Landa is a fictional creation of Tarantino, an Inglourious Basterds character used to embody various Nazi concepts. During the opening act, Landa explains the motivations for his actions. He looks for Jewish people because that’s his job, not because he believes himself to be superior - but he wants to good at his job. The complexity of the character works in favor of the film overall, as Landa ultimately betrays the Nazi party in order to survive. He’s an egotistical figure, one will do anything to stay one step ahead. As a World War II movie villain, Landa checks off all the appropriate boxes: he’s engaging but dangerous, evil but weirdly charming. By the end, Tarantino doesn’t let him off the hook, though, as Pitt’s Aldo Raine leaves a permanent mark on Landa’s forehead: a swastika.
In real life, the Nazi party itself is “The Jew Hunter.” During World War II, their antisemitic views led directly to The Holocaust, which resulted in the death of approximately six million Jews. Since various high-ranking Nazi officials are known for orchestrating the systemic execution of Jewish people, it’s difficult to simply point the finger at one individual person. But for a movie like Inglourious Basterds, a character such as Hans Landa can function as a representation of various ideas and/or people - the late-in-the-day turn and defection was true of many high-ranking Nazis - with side characters reinforcing specific concepts associated with the Nazi party.
There Was a Real Inglourious Basterds Unit (With A Different Origin Story)
Inglourious Basterds’ titular unit consists of Jewish-American soldiers, a decision that greatly benefits the film’s commercial viability with Pitt leading the way as an A-list American celebrity. In the story, the Basterds rescue a German, Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), who killed thirteen Gestapo officers. The Basterds later conspire with English soldier Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German celebrity Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), resulting in one of the film’s most dramatic sequences, set in an underground tavern.
In real life, there was indeed a Basterds-like unit that consisted of only Jews, but they didn’t take pleasure in murdering other humans, nor did they have aggrandizing nicknames ala “The Bear Jew.” The real Inglourious Basterds were a British unit known as X-Troop (via Uproxx). Organized by Winston Churchill, the group of German and Eastern European Jews reportedly focused on collecting information about the Nazis, with their motivations being that they had already experienced the horrors of Nazi antisemitism back home and wanted to protect their families or - in some cases - seek revenge. In the weeks leading up to the infamous D-Day in Normandy, France, X-Troop conducted reconnaissance missions. This real-life Basterds squad consisted of 88 men, 21 of whom were killed in action, with another 22 suffering wounds.
Many People Tried To Assassinate Hitler (But Not In A French Movie Theatre)
Hitler's death is well documented. By April 1945, the Soviet Red Army had taken control of Berlin, the Nazi capital. Rather than facing the consequences, Hitler reportedly killed himself with wife Eva Braun, just one day after their marriage ceremony. Their bodies were completely burned to ashes, though the Führer’s jaw was allegedly identified.
As previously mentioned, Inglourious Basterds ends with Hitler being killed at Emmanuelle Mimieux’s movie theatre. The Americans win. Landa turns on the Nazis. Shosanna becomes a martyr. While none of that happened, for obvious reasons, many people tried to assassinate Hitler during World War II. In fact, historians have documented at least 42 plots.
In 1932, an unknown would-be assassin tried to poison Hitler at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin. By the summer of 1934, the Führer set in motion the “Night of the Long Knives,” in which he orchestrated the executions of numerous political figures in order to eliminate his opponents. It was a power move, with the Schutzstaffel (SS) serving as Hitler’s henchmen. In response, a German military volunteer named Beppo Römer planned to kill Hitler but was swiftly arrested. Years later, he conspired again with the group Solf Circle, but the plan was discovered by the Gestapo. Römer was sent to a concentration camp at Dachau, and later executed in 1944. In November 1939, a carpenter named Georg Elser planted a bomb at a Munich beer hall, hoping to kill Hitler. The plan failed horribly, as eight innocent people died and 62 others were injured.
Moviegoers may be familiar with a July 1944 Hitler assassination attempt that’s depicted in Bryan Singer’s 2008 film Valkyrie. Tom Cruise portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who previously lost his eye during an Allied attack in Tunisia. Operation Valkyrie was an emergency plan that would result with the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany taking control if and when Hitler was killed. But the assassination attempt ultimately failed, and von Stauffenberg was executed the next day in Berlin at age 36. Hitler killed himself nine months later.
Inglourious Basterds is entertaining and partially true, but it's designed to fit Tarantino's specific brand of filmmaking.