‘Inglourious Basterds': Five Of Cinema’s Badass Jewish Action Heroes

Inglourious Basterds” opens this week with one of the most intentionally Jewish casts of action heroes that any writer or director has ever assembled. Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent tale sets itself historically during a time that many films have tackled, showcasing the tales of real-life heroes in Jewish history like Oscar Schindler in “Schindler’s List” and Anne Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I’m talking of course about World War II.

Tarantino’s trademark penchant for extreme black humor and overshooting reality, meanwhile, places his ambitions somewhere between those more somber films and other over-the-top performances, like Adam Goldberg in the Comedy Central TV movie “The Hebrew Hammer.” Eli Roth and his fellow Basterds will join a long history of Jewish action heroes in film, though. Here are five of the most famous figures who have earned that distinction.

The Thing (Michael Chiklis) — “Fantastic Four”
Michael Chiklis’ character in “Fantastic Four” certainly bears a similarity to the Golem of Jewish lore, but the hero’s alter ego, Ben Grimm, had his Jewish heritage established in Marvel’s comics with “Fantastic Four” (Vol. 3) #56. Chiklis himself is actually quite Greek, but if you carry over the intentions behind the character, The Thing may be the most super-powered Jewish character to be featured in theaters.

Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) — “Spaceballs”
Princess Vespa may not have technically been Jewish, but she was Druish. Even if she didn’t “look Druish,” as John Candy’s character Barf observed in Mel Brooks’ unmatched sci-fi parody, “Spaceballs.” Vespa did, however, prove herself to be one Druish princess you do not want to mess with. If you ever meet her on the street, remember the one all-important rule: do not shoot her hair.

Moses (Charlton Heston) — “The Ten Commandments”
Charlton Heston may be a gentile, but his performance as Moses — a sort of über-Jew — in “The Ten Commandments” still made it into Hollywood’s canon of classics. Gun nut or not, Heston gets honorary status just for that. Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film showcased Moses’ powerful deeds as a manifestation of God’s will, sinking Rameses’ army beneath the Red Sea and freeing the Hebrew people. He is easily the most epic Jewish hero to make it into cinema.

Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) — “The Big Lebowski”
Though his motivations and religious fervor were constantly called into question by his bowling associate, The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Walter Sobchak raised the profile of the sacred day of Shabbos in popular film more than any single character before him — all thanks to his steadfast refusal to roll. What is Shabbos you ask? Let’s ask Walter: “That means that I don’t work, I don’t get in a car, I don’t f–king ride in a car, I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as s–t don’t f–king roll! Shomer shabbos!” Glad we cleared that up.

Zohan Dvir (Adam Sandler) — “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan”
Oddly enough, Sandler’s blow-drying hero could justifiably rank right beneath Moses on this list in terms of seriously Jewish heroes. As a member of the Israeli Special Forces, Zohan comes from an Orthodox family and fakes his own death in order to give up his violent missions and reinvent himself as a hairdresser. Beneath Sandler’s standard comedy stylings, “Zohan” offers the most contemporary commentary of any of the tales listed here.