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The 3-Finger Gesture Didn’t Give Them Away


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The Basterds blew their cover in front of Major Hellström due to an unorthodox three-finger gesture, but that might have not been what gave them away.

One of the Basterds’ plans in Inglourious Basterds failed due to a mistake by Lt. Hicox, who made the wrong “three-finger” gesture when ordering drinks, but a fan theory suggests that wasn’t what gave them away, and Major Hellström was a lot smarter than they thought. After exploring different genres – from crime to martial arts – Quentin Tarantino tried something different in 2009 with Inglourious Basterds, which told an alternate version of World War II.

Inglourious Basterds followed different subplots with one common goal: kill as many Nazis as possible, including Hitler. To achieve this, there were two plans: one by a group known as the “Basterds”, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), and the other by Shosanna Dreyfus/Emmanuelle Mimieux (Mélanie Laurent), a Jewish cinema owner whose family was killed by SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). One of the plans of the Basterds included an alliance with actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), an undercover agent who was going to attend the premiere of Joseph Goebbels’ latest film at Emmanuelle’s cinema, which was the perfect setting to attack as Hitler was going to be present as well.

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Related: Inglourious Basterds: What The Ending’s “Masterpiece” Line Really Means

The Basterds were joined by Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), as this part of the plan was part of Operation Kino, a British idea to attack the premiere. Hicox, along with Basterds Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) and Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard), were going to meet von Hammersmark at a basement tavern, which to their surprise turned out to be full of German soldiers. They ended up being joined by Major Dieter Hellström (August Diehl), who eventually realized they were not real German soldiers, prompting a gunfight. Von Hammersmark later explained to Raine and the rest of the Basterds that Hicox gave himself away by using the British hand gesture to order three drinks instead of “the German three” – but Major Hellström might have known they were lying from the very beginning.

The 3-Finger Gesture In Inglourious Basterds Explained

Inglourious Basterds three finger gesture Hicox

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The tavern was full of German soldiers as they were celebrating that one of them (MSgt. Wilhelm, played by Alexander Fehling) had just become a father. In order to not raise any suspicions, von Hammersmark told Hicox to stay for a while, but they were interrupted by a drunk Wilhelm, who ended up getting on Hicox’s nerves. Wilhelm pointed out Hicox’s accent and asked where he was from, prompting an angry reaction from Stiglitz which in turn drew the attention of Major Hellström. After a very tense conversation between Hellström and Hicox about the latter’s accent and birthplace, the former joined the rest at the table and asked them what they were doing in France as he hadn’t heard of them before. They then played a card game, after which Hellström ordered scotch for everyone (except him) for a final toast before he left. Von Hammersmark refused the drink, so they only needed three glasses, which Hicox ordered with a three-finger gesture. Hellström’s attitude immediately changed and he threatened the Basterds and von Hammersmark as he already knew they were lying.

After the above-mentioned gunfight, von Hammersmark was the sole survivor, who then explained to Raine that Hicox made a mistake by making the three-finger order wrong. Hicox made the gesture with the index, middle, and ring fingers, while in Germany (and other Western European countries) they count three with the thumb, index, and middle finger. While it might seem like a minor or even insignificant detail, Hellström clearly got it, but that doesn’t mean that’s how he knew the Basterds were lying.

The 3-Finger Gesture Is Only Implied To Give The Basterds Away

Hellström’s facial expression changed as soon as he saw the “unorthodox three-finger” gesture, but that’s no confirmation of it being what gave the Basterds away. As Hellström died in the gunfight, there’s no way to know for sure if that’s how he knew, and the only reason why viewers (and the rest of the Basterds) learn there’s a “German three” is through von Hammersmark’s explanation. With this in mind, it’s only implied that the unorthodox three was the reason the plan didn’t work, but Hellström might have known from the moment he heard Hicox and Stiglitz talk.

Related: Inglourious Basterds: What Happened To The Other Basterds

Theory: Major Hellström Already Knew Who The Basterds Were

A theory posted on Reddit explains how Hellström knew who the Basterds were from the moment he approached their table. The author explains Hellström knew a lot more about German cinema than expected, so he knew Hicox was lying when he told him the story of him being from Piz Palü and appearing in a Riefenstahl film. After that came the part of the conversation where Hellström asked them what they were doing in France, as he knew all officers stationed there (or, at least, anyone “worth knowing”). Hicox came up with the excuse of him being there to escort von Hammersmark to the premiere, with the latter confirming this and adding that they were all her guests. The biggest hint at Hellström knowing the Basterds were lying, however, is Hugo Stiglitz.

When Stiglitz is introduced in Inglourious Basterds, viewers learn he was a German army soldier who murdered 13 Gestapo officers and thus was recruited by the Basterds, who actually saved him from being executed. In that same scene, the German soldier about to be beaten by the Donny “the Bear Jew” (Eli Roth) says “everyone in the German Army has heard of Hugo Stiglitz”, and his face was all over the German newspapers at the time. Hellström, then, recognized Stiglitz immediately, and all the “friendly” slaps to move him over and again before the card game were to toy with him and make him blow his cover, as he knew Stiglitz had an anger problem. The author adds that Hellström was looking to get everyone at the table drunk to get an advantage before the shootout, which is why he goes first in the game, because if he won, everyone had to drink, and he later refused the scotch he just ordered because “scotch didn’t like him”. Another Reddit user added that Hellström was especially upset by the three-finger gesture because it was the first hint that everyone else in the bar could catch, and so he reacted fast. All these details add up and make it a believable theory, which also fills in some gaps, such as why no one seemed to react to Hugo Stiglitz casually entering the tavern with three other “German soldiers”.

Tarantino is known for paying a lot of attention to detail in the dialogues of his movies, and this particular scene from Inglourious Basterds might be a very good example of this. Whether Hellstroöm truly knew who the Basterds were thanks to his knowledge of German cinema or not is up to every viewer, but what’s true is that he must have recognized Hugo Stiglitz and that the unorthodox three-finger gesture was only implied to be what gave them away, but it’s not for sure that it was the reason.

Next: Inglourious Basterds True Story: Did ANY Of Quentin Tarantino’s Movie Really Happen?

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Updated: October 24, 2020 — 11:00 pm

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