The film attracted critics' attention again after Quentin Tarantino used the title as the inspiration for the title of his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds. The Tarantino film is not a remake of The Inglorious Bastards, but contains a few references to it, including the appearance of actor Bo Svenson as an American colonel.
In France in 1944, American soldiers Berle, a deserter; Nick Colasanti, a petty thief; Fred, nicknamed "Assassin"; Tony, a mutineer; and Lieutenant Yeager (arrested for refusing to execute orders to kill, among others, women and children) are sentenced to death for their crimes and are shipped to a prisoners' camp near the Ardennes.
During the journey to the camp, the convoy stops because of a flat tire, and Fred and Berle are ordered to change it. Their work is interrupted by a German air raid. The five criminals take advantage of the attack and escape. Yeager takes command of the group and decides to find a way to neutral Switzerland.
On their way, they stop at an abandoned factory in the French countryside to rest and refill their supplies. While they eat, the upper floor of the building collapses, and a German soldier appears from between the hay bundles. Captured by Yeager's group, he tells them that he is in fact an escaped prisoner sentenced to death just like them. Although Tony and Fred want to kill him, Yeager prefers to take him along in case the Nazis attack again.
Later, the group runs into a German patrol, and the captured Nazi soldier proves very helpful. He convinces the patrol that the Americans are his prisoners, and they manage to kill part of the patrol and escape. After this, the group see a group of beautiful German nurses bathing naked in a river. Nick suggests the Americans pretend to be Nazi soldiers, and they are able to get on friendly terms with the girls. However, after they see Fred, who is black, the nurses realize the men are Americans and start shooting at them. Tony, Nick, Berle and Fred run away to a nearby camp.
But the situation does not get any better. Some German soldiers arrive at the camp, and Yeager sends the captured Nazi to talk to them. After discussing something with them, the German soldier realizes that the newly arrived are in fact Americans and shouts: "Americans! Americans!" Yeager, thinking that he is telling the Nazis who the fugitives really are, starts shooting at the Germans. He, however, makes a huge mistake as Colonel Buckner tells him that the squad he shot at actually consisted of Americans dressed in Nazi uniform who were supposed to accomplish an important mission. At this point, the only solution is to trust the group led by Yeager with this task.
Meanwhile, Berle meets Nicole, a French nurse of the Resistance movement. He falls in love with her but it is Tony she is crazy about. Another problem arises as Fred falls into the enemy's hands. Yeager, Tony, Berle and Nick attack the Nazi fortifications and free their friend. After the group is reunited, Colonel Buckner explains to them the plan, according to which they are to assault an armored train shipping a prototype of the V-2 missile.
According to the plan, the train is supposed to pass a mined bridge. But there are unexpected problems as Nick is unable to contact his comrades due to a broken transmitter, and is killed in an attempt to warn them. Berle is killed by the train driver, and when all hope seems to be lost, Lieutenant Yeager decides the outcome of the battle in a heroic act, in which he blows up the train with the missiles and himself on board, destroying the station assaulted by the Nazis.
Ultimately, the only ones to survive are Fred (who is wounded but escapes into the French fields), Colonel Buckner, and Tony, who manages to return to Nicole.Bo Svenson as Lt. Robert Yeager
Fred Williamson as Private Fred Canfield
Peter Hooten as Tony
Michael Pergolani as Nick
Jackie Basehart as Berle
Ian Bannen as Col. Charles Thomas Buckner
Michel Constantin as Veronique
Debra Berger as Nicole
Donald O'Brien as SS Commander
The original working title was Bastardi senza gloria (literally: "Bastards Without Glory"). The first attempt to make this movie took place in 1976 in the United States and involved an approach proposed by Bo Richards to filmmaker Ted V. Mikels. Mikels rejected it on the grounds that a movie pitched as a Dirty Dozen follow-up was a decade late, and any insistence on preserving a title containing the word "bastard" would spell box office failure in the 1970s. The film was released in the United States as The Inglorious Bastards; it was also issued as Hell's Heroes and as Deadly Mission on home video.
The American success of the blaxploitation genre led distributors to reedit this film and distribute it as G.I. Bro; in this version, scenes were cut to make Fred Williamson the lead character. The tagline on this version was "If you're a kraut, he'll take you out!"
The reissue title for this film was Counterfeit Commandos. Severin Films released a three-disc set that features a newly remastered transfer of the film, an interview with Quentin Tarantino (the director of the similarly titled film Inglourious Basterds) and director Enzo G. Castellari, trailers, a tour of shooting locations, a documentary on the making of the film with interviews with Bo Svenson, Fred Williamson, and Enzo G. Castellari, and a CD with the soundtrack. Both spellings appear on the DVDs: one uses the full word, "Bastards" and the other, "Basterds."
In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that the film is "totally lacking in realism or historical perspective" as well as that it "does boast some tolerably rousing action passages, notably the climactic sequence on the train."