A “spaghetti war” film classic: Sarasota’s Peter Hooten on his role in the original Inglorious Bastards

He remembered the 1978 World War II action flick The Inglorious Bastards — which lists Hooten second in its credit sequence — so well, he decided to remake it, and retitle it, kind of: The finished Tarantino film goes by the name Inglourious Basterds. (Hooten calls the misspelling affectation "too clever by half.") The hype about Basterds — which hits multiplexes this Friday — has been overwhelming: Audiences at the May Cannes Film Festival greeted its premiere with an eight-minute standing ovation, and journalists have depicted the film as a potential savior for the troubled production company that financed it.

Hooten hasn't seen the new version, and wasn't even aware that Severin had reissued the original film in a lovely three-DVD package earlier this year. It's not that Hooten isn't proud of his work on Inglorious Bastards, and he doesn't disparage others involved in the project; it's just that, to him, Bastards is one film among many, a brief escapade in a long and successful career.

[image-1]JOHN PETER HOOTEN was born on Nov. 29, 1950 in Clermont, Fla., a town just west of Orlando. Even as a boy, he wanted to be an actor so he could see the world: "I did audition for school plays and I thought, ‘Maybe I could be an actor. God, I'd get to travel!'" During his freshman year at Ithaca College in upstate New York, Hooten performed in a play, and the writer who had translated the work encouraged him to have some professional pictures made and send them to an agency in Los Angeles. Hooten took the advice, and got a call to come out to L.A. for the coming summer.

He landed some bit parts right off the bat. "I was so lucky; I worked," Hooten says. Guest roles on TV shows such as The Mod Squad and in small movies kept him busy, but he got tired of shallow directors. Wanting to hone his craft, Hooten took off for London, where he studied acting. Before long, he landed a contract with the William Morris Agency, which kept him busy shooting films around Europe. It was his connection to William Morris that earned him a role in an Italian-made Dirty Dozen knock-off that went by the working title of Bastardi Senza Gloria, "bastards without glory."

The movie was directed by Enzo G. Castellari, and starred former AFL player Fred Williamson and Sweden's Bo Svenson. Bastards tells the story of a group of American G.I.s, each one about to be court-martialed by the U.S. military in Nazi-occupied France. Herded onto transport trucks, the men escape when a Nazi attack leaves their captors dead. From there, the movie becomes a series of action set pieces, as the soldiers fight their way to Switzerland and even attempt to earn a pardon by capturing a valuable piece of Nazi technology.

While the film didn't win any awards, it's fun and light, with several bravura action sequences. "The script, it must have been much, much better in Italian, but we shot in English," Hooten says. "So we ended up improvising a great deal. It was fascinating; it was fun." Hooten played the role of Tony, a tough racist with a charming streak that helps him win the affection of the only female character of note. (The picture at top shows Hooten in character on the Bastards set.)

Bastards was poorly distributed, and has been known by many different names over the years: Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato ("that damned armored train"), G.I. Bro (when it was repackaged as a blaxploitation film), Deadly Mission and on and on. It was never a hit, and Tarantino caught the movie as a young man not in a theater, but on a low-budget TV station.

AFTER SHOOTING BASTARDS, Hooten moved on to other roles, and other cities. After 16 years in New York City, and some time in Connecticut, he moved to St. Augustine to be closer to his sister in Jacksonville. "I twiddled my thumbs and I had culture shock, real culture shock, moving to the Dixiecratic South," Hooten says. "Just the remnant of horrible racism and pettiness. ... It was frustrating after having lived in capitals for much of my life."

When he was young, Hooten visited Sarasota with his family, and he spent time here after he moved back to Florida. "I thought, ‘Well this is nice.' And I liked the city, and I liked the fact that it was somewhat of an arts center and still is somewhat of an arts center. ... You hear different languages here. I mean, that's thrilling."

Hooten purchased a modest 1924 Indian Beach cottage in 1998 and has packed its walls with old family photographs and an impressive contemporary art collection that encompasses both national artists such as Barbara Kassel and local figures such as Tim Jaeger and Tobey Albright. (In the second picture above, you can see his latest Kassel acquisition and an S/ART/Q T-shirt that bears a Jaeger print, as well as the exterior of Hooten's home.) His home office overflows with books, many of them signed first editions. He putters around Sarasota in an old maroon Geo Prizm.

He probably won't be taking the Prizm for a spin to catch the opening night of Tarantino's interpretation of The Inglorious Bastards, though. "He's very fun-loving and he must be very fun to work with, and he is a good director in many, many ways. He pulls together very good people," Hooten says. "But I'm not one to sit through three hours of violence."

While Hooten cracks wise about the quality of the original Inglorious Bastards, it's clear he's not embarrassed by his role in it. Sure, the flick may not stack up against the artier fare on his résumé, but it's listed alongside the weightier stuff nevertheless. And God knows Hooten has acted in enough roles to be selective about what he includes. "There's a lot of things I never put on my résumé," Hooten says. "Failures or things that didn't come to fruition or that I was involved with and," sighing, "oh God. I put on the things that I really like."

So when Hooten calls Bastards a "C movie," take it with a grain of salt.

You can see brief bits of Hooten's performance in The Inglorious Bastards in the trailer for the film, posted below. That's him at 1:24 saying, "Now you remember what I said," and at 1:35 saying, "When the firing starts, I'm going to put a bullet through your skull."

Top photo courtesy Peter Hooten; second photo by Cooper Levey-Baker

Be sure to check out Curt Holman's review of QT's updated Inglourious Basterds, and CL's Movies & Television site for all the latest movie news and reviews.

Peter Hooten's current résumé lists a project titled Voices From Sandover at the very top of the section titled "Film." A verse-video collaboration between Hooten and influential American poet James Merrill, the film — which Hooten both produced and costarred in — remains one of the 59-year-old retired actor's proudest accomplishments.

"I felt really good and I worked a long time on it," Hooten says, lingering over a double espresso and chocolate cake in the dining room at the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton. "And I got really good people together. And we shot it in Cambridge; it was the right atmosphere. … It's not mainstream, but God, it was a labor of love. So who's going to see that? But it will be in the libraries when Inglorious Bastards goes bye-bye. Nobody's going to remember anybody for that."

Quentin Tarantino, no doubt, disagrees.

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