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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to come up with an alternative ending to World War II.

Tarantino wrote and directed the new movie "Inglourious Basterds." He sets loose a squad of men to cause havoc inside German-occupied France in the 1940s.

Brad Pitt plays their leader, a man from the Tennessee mountains with an unexplained rope scar around his neck.

Mr. BRAD PITT (Actor): (as Lt. Aldo Raine) My name is Lieutenant Aldo Raine, and I'm putting together a special team, and I need me eight soldiers, eight Jewish-American soldiers. Once we're in enemy territory, as a bushwhacking guerrilla army we're going to be doing one thing, and one thing only - killing Nazis. Sound good?

Unidentified Men (Actors): (as characters) Yes, sir!

INSKEEP: There actually is a grain of truth behind Quentin Tarantino's story. The allies really did send Jewish commandos who knew the right languages behind the lines in World War II. Other than that grain, "Inglourious Basterds" is entirely made up.

The movie quickly takes you into a parallel universe of outrageous violence and a plan to kill Adolf Hitler. The characters switch between English, German, French and Italian.

And Quentin Tarantino's dialogue in between killings drips with dark humor.

Mr. QUENTIN TARANTINO (Writer-Director): It's just kind of the way I write. You know, there is a comedy aspect to everything that I've ever done. You know, I stop short of calling them comedies because there's actually serious stuff in the films...

INSKEEP: You stop short of calling them comedies because people are being scalped and so forth.

Mr. TARANTINO: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Little things like that, all right. But that doesn't mean we can't have a good time. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TARANTINO: But my - yeah, but the humor comes out of it and I, it comes out of just the way I do things. But also part of my method of doing stuff is to make people laugh at stuff that's not normally funny.

INSKEEP: I want to play a little clip from this movie. What we're going to hear here is Brad Pitt, and he is confronting here, or confronted by a German army officer who is known for hunting down Jews.

Mr. TARANTINO: Yes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Inglourious Basterds")

Mr. PITT: (as Lt. Aldo Raine) So you're the Jew hunter.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER WALTZ (Actor): (as Colonel Hans Landa) I'm a detective, a damn good detective. Finding people is my specialty, so naturally I work for the Nazis finding people. And yes, some of them were Jews, but Jew hunter? It's just a name that stuck.

Mr. B.J. NOVAK: (as PFC Smithson Utivich): Well, you do have to admit, it is catchy.

Mr. WALTZ: (as Colonel Hans Landa) Do you control the nicknames your enemies bestow on you? Aldo the Apache and the Little Man?

Mr. B.J. NOVAK: (as PFC Smithson Utivich) The German's nickname for me is the Little Man?

Mr. WALTZ: (as Colonel Hans Landa) And as if to make my point, I'm a little surprised how tall you were in real life. I mean you are a little fellow, but not circus midget little.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: And we also hear, of course, one of Brad Pitt's soldiers there as well.

Mr. TARANTINO: Yeah, B.J. Novak. Actually this is my, that's my first radio clip I've ever - not every director gets a radio clip. They don't talk that often, all right? So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, you've got a lot of dialogue.

Mr. TARANTINO: I've got a lot of dialogue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Which is what I want to ask about, because there are extraordinarily long scenes of dialogue that are incredibly tense throughout this movie. Your movies may be known for violence but they're also know for the dialogue.

And I'd like to know, as best you can describe it, how you go about writing a scene like that. Do you practice lines on people? Do you just sit alone and it comes out of your head? What happens?

Mr. TARANTINO: Yeah, this sitting alone coming out of my head scenario, that's the closest. I mean basically I just get the characters talking to each other, and then they do it. They really write the scene. I'm more like, like a court reporter, jotting it down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TARANTINO: The whole trick is to get them talking to each other, and then when I'm done writing the scene, then Quentin, the writer comes in and just kind of cleans it up just a little bit.

INSKEEP: It's hard to escape the notion that you're commenting in many ways on movies in this movie, particularly since - and we don't want to give away the ending here - but it involves a scene in a movie theater. Let's say that much.

Mr. TARANTINO: Yeah, yeah. For sure.

INSKEEP: And you also have said this isn't your daddy's World War II movie. What were you thinking about when you said that?

Mr. TARANTINO: Well, that comment, you know, it's, there's been certain contrivances, especially when it comes to language, where people are supposed to be speaking German but it's standing in for - you know, they're speaking English and it's supposed to be German.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Mr. TARANTINO: And I just think that's a contrivance that we've put up with for a long time and I think that day is over.

I actually think it makes - when, you know, movies take place in Nazi Germany and they're all speaking English, or in particularly almost Shakespearean English, all right, it's like you would think the Third Reich started at the Old Vic...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TARANTINO: ...with and all these Shakespearean actors walking through the door, I think it makes them quaint.

INSKEEP: Well, that's really interesting because I don't think anybody would say this is precisely a realistic war movie. The history certainly doesn't turn out as it did in the history books. But the realism was important to you in some other ways, it sounds like.

Mr. TARANTINO: Oh, no, no, no, completely, actually, and there is an aspect of this movie, one of the things it's about is about language, and that was such a big, big deal in World War II. I mean people died and were shot and thrown in ditches because they couldn't understand a German order.

INSKEEP: Hmm.

Mr. TARANTINO: You know? And also, you have to remember something else that I think was very fascinating. World War II is the last time that a whole bunch of white people fought another whole bunch of white people, and consequently if you could pull off language you could infiltrate somebody else's army, whether it's the Germans infiltrating the Polish underground or the Czech Underground, or whether it's, you know, us trying to infiltrate the Germans. But in like something like, say, "Where Eagles Dare"...

INSKEEP: Which movie is that now?

Mr. TARANTINO: "Where Eagles Dare," with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. That's a very fun movie. But in that movie there's a section that apparently Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood speak German so beautifully, so absolutely flawlessly that all they have to do is put on a German uniform and, you know, mix it up with a hoi polloi of the German high command in some tavern.

Now, the fact that English is standing in for German - all right - there's just two things. One, I don't buy it...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Mr. TARANTINO: ...but also the suspense is completely gone.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one other question. Again, I'm trying very hard not to give the ending away, even though I want to ask you about it.

Mr. TARANTINO: And I appreciate that, by the way.

INSKEEP: But let's just say also that the ending involves - well, setting some film on fire.

Mr. TARANTINO: Yeah.

INSKEEP: You ever done that?

Mr. TARANTINO: No, I haven't because it's actually really hard nowadays to get nitrate film prints. But one of the things you look for as a writer is to have these little eureka ideas, and I think, you know, the better writer you are, the more eureka ideas you've had in your life.

And part of the idea in this movie is to set a bomb in this theater, and one of the things that happens is they use nitrate film prints because they're very very, extremely flammable, to start it off. And when I came up with that idea, that was actually a realistic idea that somebody could do, I was, that was a real eureka idea. You've got two things going on - on one hand, the idea that cinema is going to try to bring down the Third Reich. That's a really juicy metaphor. On another hand, it's not even a metaphor at all. It's tactile reality in the movie. It is 35 millimeter nitrate film itself that is doing it.

INSKEEP: Well, Quentin Tarantino, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us.

Mr. TARANTINO: Hey, it's a very good - very good conversation. Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" opens today.

And there you can find clips from the movie in our Arts and Life section at the new NPR.org.

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