Tarantino reimagines those real life Hollywood tragic events of August 1969. Here he ensembles an all star cast with some big entertainment names both on and off screen.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – Official Trailer (HD), Sony Pictures and photos © Sony Pictures Releasing
With a dad dancing Leonardo DiCaprio heading a quintessential Quentin Tarantino cast this film had my curiosity and attention from the trailer. Darlin’ Husband chose this for my birthday movie outing. This was in a matter of good timing, as the film was also set in the year of my birth, 1969.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) blends fact with fiction. In real life, the pregnant actress Sharon Tate – wife to Roman Polanski – and her friends were brutally murdered by Charles Manson’s “family” at Cielo Drive. This film has a reimagining of the lead up to this one of those darker days of 1960s Hollywood, but with a Tarantino fictional twist on the day itself.
The film starting in Black and White, in a 1950s TV trailer for a (fictional) Western themed series, Bounty Law. Bounty Law’s main character Jake Cahill shooting everyone and anyone. We then meet a behind the scenes interviewer chat with the star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) – this show’s charismatic leading man – and his stunt double (and one time Green beret) Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Booth states he “carries the load” and literally takes a fall for this famous actor.
Forward to February 1969, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her famous director husband Roman Polanski have just flown home to Hollywood. The Press are going crazy for a photo of the loved up famous pair. The stylish couple back in town head to a celebrity filled party at the Playboy mansion that evening (complete with bunny girls for your dad).
In contrast, the now unrecognised Dalton meets with his casting agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). After his chat with Schwarz, the unconfident Dalton is concerned his acting career is still on the downslide. He’s now resigned to small supporting roles in TV.
His casting agent implores he goes east and tries for Italian leading roles in Spaghetti Western films in Rome. This so the name Rick Dalton can be one who is remembered as the one who shoots, rather than be the forgotten star who’s shot. Dalton isn’t that keen.
Dalton lives next door to the newly acclaimed director, Roman Polanski and his pretty young actress wife, Sharon Tate. Dalton is hoping for a proper meeting with his now more famous neighbours and their influential circle. Booth lives alone in a caravan at the other end of town with his bull mastiff dog.
Booth’s career as a stuntman is also not as full time as it used to be, and there are rumours around Hollywood he murdered his wife. Booth now spends his days as Dalton’s driver, gopher, confidante, buddy and odd job man.
One day as he’s fixing Dalton’s TV antenna on the roof – after reminiscing about an off set fight with Bruce Lee – he locks eyes with Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). Manson visits the Polanski home, with their housemate Jay Sebring answering the door. Manson is looking for Terry Melcher who used to live in the house.
However this more unsettling side to 1969 Hollywood continues. On his way to meet Dalton in Dalton’s car Booth picks up a pretty young girl hitchhiker, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). She’s recently caught his eye a few times while as he’s been in Dalton’s car on his way to somewhere.
Pussycat asks for a lift to Spahn ranch. This a place where Booth worked on a movie owned by his friend George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Once there, Pussycat’s friend Squeaky objects to Booth meeting Spahn. Ignoring this objection raises Booth’s suspicions why this group live there, and even more so when his car tyres are found slashed. Booth then beats the crap out of the man who did this.
Meanwhile, Sharon Tate enjoys a day out and watches herself in her latest film at the cinema. Dalton indirectly gets support from his 8-year-old co-star Trudi (Julia Butters). Dalton’s confidence increases and he impresses Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) with his acting on the set of Lancer.
Schwarz has Dalton cast as the lead in an Italian Western and Dalton leaves for Italy. He has more success then returns to Hollywood with a new actress wife in tow, meanwhile his neighbour Sharon Tate is pregnant…
This film was a wonderful homage to the late 1960s in Hollywood. It was both a heartwarming and wistful look at this time and place. It’s important that – like all Tarantino movies – you listen carefully to the earlier parts of the script and watch those action scenes. There are many in script and on-screen hints and flashbacks foreshadowing future events and plot storylines.
Tarantino’s wonderful spoken script – as Schwarz outlines Dalton’s career – was abundant with the familiar real-life TV titles from this time. This was accompanied by more visual treats with imaginatively created clips showing the full range of Dalton’s film and TV career.
These clips including this actor’s impressive prowess in one particular stunt he carried out himself. This as he used a flamethrower for the (fictional) film The Fourteen Fists of McLuskey to torch the bad guys. A scene of Rick Dalton in The Great Escape is also one to look out for…
Rick Dalton themed, artistic film posters but with real life famous names were beautifully recreated in the style of the time. These Hollywood names also recognisable even if the film’s titles were in Tarantino’s imagination. With real life famous names like Margaret Lee, Joseph Cotten, Telly Savalas and director Sergio Corbucci.
These fictional films Kill Me Now Ringo, Said the Gringo (an Italian Western), Operazione Dyn-o-Mite (an Italian James Bond spy rip-off) and Nebraska Jim. The artwork style for these easily reminiscent of film posters of this time.
The beautifully recreated Hollywood backdrop, the carefully selected musical soundtrack and those groovy fashions also added to this late 1960s ambience. The soundtrack was perfectly selected with both carefree and more haunting lyrics. The latter included Neil Diamond’s Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’s forboding lyrics “Hot August night. And the leaves hanging down”…
I adored Margot Robbie’s on screen wardrobe easily showing the glamorous, stylish Tate in Hollywood starlet, girl next door and groovy party wear. Both Dalton and Pitt were equally debonair. DiCaprio sporting some enviable leather jackets and Pitt looking very fit in (and out) of his Champion T-shirt.
More wistful was the presence and inclusion of the real life actress, Sharon Tate in a clip of one of her films as the film Tate watched at the cinema. Her presence in the script showed her as a beautiful woman, an expectant mother and an actress. Many writers and others have criticised this movie saying that Tate should have had more of a presence in this film.
However, I feel personally this may have been Tarantino’s intention that we see her and recall her with these particular attributes and as this normal girl next door. This as opposed to that label as a murder victim, of which she’s sadly more frequently remembered as in real life.
I also adored those fictional supporting characters. Wee Julia Butters shone as a precocious child actress, Trudi. Butters in a sweet and natural performance rather than an annoying child star. Her presence leading to a surprising way in which Dalton became more confident in himself and his acting abilities.
I also loved Al Pacino’s passionate casting agent. His optimism for a successful career for Dalton outside of Hollywood was apt for that time. This as around this time many of those big famous names made Italian films.
In what seemed to be a nice wee homage to Pacino’s own character in Scarface, Pacino mimed the use of an imagined machine gun. Here Schwarz mimed Dalton’s shooting abilities in this film and this followed by Dalton a clip of The Fourteen Fists of McLuskey. This film was Dalton’s (fictional) World War II movie and one where he massacred the Nazi enemy with a flamethrower.
I also loved those moments where Tarantino mansplained who specific characters were and more on their characters. We learned more about Dalton in clips from his on-screen interviews, films and TV. Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) also gave us a nice wee sum up of the relationship between Tate, Sebring and Polanski.
There were even spot the star moments with other on-screen cameos (but these roles played by familiar names off-screen). Actors playing Mama Cass, Michelle Philips and Steve McQueen also appeared and disappeared into the party at Hugh Hefner’s pad.
Damian Lewis was the most convincing of these on-screen stars (from off-screen actors / actresses) in his role as the actor Steve McQueen. I’m sure Lewis made the current king of the film biopic lookalikes, 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Brian May Gwilym Lee quake in his platform shoes.
I’m hoping one day, Mr Tarantino that we see more about a Damian Lewis acted, Steve McQueen’s alternate history. This in the next chapter of your Kurt Russell narrated, heartwarming, fairy tale of Hollywood.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
All About Al Pacino Blogathon 2019 No 98
This review was added to Pale Writer 2’s All About Al Pacino Blogathon. Margot Robbie also stars in Were Neighbours Now Hollywood Stars, About Time and Tourism Australia: The Son of a Legend Returns Home. Brad Pitt stars in World War Z. Leonardo DiCaprio in Gatsby, Shutter Island, Hotties and Django Unchained. Damian Lewis stars in Wolf Hall. Kurt Russell in Escape from New York, Overboard and his blogathon HERE. Nicholas Hammond in Dynasty the making of a Guilty Pleasure and The Sound of Music. Brenda Vaccaro starred in Airport 77 and Water. Bruce Dern in Family Plot.