Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (Sony/Columbia 2019)

If you’re as much of a movie/television/pop culture fanatic as I am (and if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog!), I’m here to tell you you’re gonna ABSOLUTELY FUCKING LOVE this latest Quentin Tarantino epic!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD takes place in 1969, at the tail end of Tinseltown’s Glory Days, and the tail end of TV actor Rick Dalton’s career. Dalton (splendidly played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was the star of the late 50s/early 60s TV Western BOUNTY LAW (modeled after Steve McQueen’s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE), whose drinking problem has led him on the road to nowheresville, grabbing quick paychecks by guest starring as bad guys on episodic TV. He’s offered the chance to make some low-budget Spaghetti Westerns by producer Marvin Schwarsz (a bloated looking Al Pacino), bottom of the barrel stuff that’ll keep Rick’s name above the title.

Rick’s best bud Cliff Booth (supercool Brad Pitt – and why hasn’t this guy won a fucking acting Oscar yet?) is his long-time stunt double who has problems of his own getting work, due to rumors he killed his wife with a spear gun. Rick gets some new neighbors at his private Ciello Drive residence: upcoming starlet Sharon Tate (an endearing Margot Robbie) and her new hubby, director Roman Polanski. He also lands yet another bad guy role on the pilot episode of LANCER (featuring Timothy Olyphant as the tragic James Stacy), but Cliff’s not hired because of friction with stunt co-ordinator Randy’s (the great Kurt Russell) wife (veteran stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell).

So while Rick struggles with himself making the pilot, Cliff picks up a cute teenage hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley, Emmy winner for FOSSE/VERDON) and drives her to the Spahn Ranch, and their lives will never be the same…

I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say it hits you like a swift kick in the balls, and another, and then another, in typically over-the-top Tarantino fashion – all set to the music of Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”! As usual, music plays a large part in Tarantino’s film, and you’ll hear classic rock tunes from the era like Los Bravos’ “Bring a Little Water”, Bob Seger’s “Rambling Gambling Man”, The Stones’ ‘Out of Time”, Deep Purple’s “Hush”, and many others. You’ll even hear and see the impossibly handsome Robert Goulet crooning “MacArthur Park” from an old TV clip!

DiCaprio and Pitt make a great pair as Rick and Cliff, a couple of Hollywood losers now living on the fringe of filmdom. And Margot Robbie is just as lovable as the real Sharon Tate – she inhabits the late actress’s skin and truly BECOMES the doomed star. Besides those previously mentioned, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give shout-outs to Bruce Dern as the broken-down George Spahn (a role slated for Burt Reynolds before his death), Austin Butler (Nickelodeon’s ZOEY 101) as the thoroughly evil Tex Watson, Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme, Nicholas Hammond (TV’s original SPIDER-MAN) as director Sam Wannamaker, and Emile Hirsch (INTO THE WILD) as Jay Sebring. Luke Perry makes his final film appearance as actor Wayne Maunder, and Lena Dunham, Martin Kove, Michael Madsen, and James Remar are also along for this wild ride!

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There’s so much to love for film fans in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, and I especially dug the scene where Pitt’s character has a fight with Bruce Lee, played by martial arts expert Mike Moh. The “clip” of DiCaprio singing while hosting the rock music TV show HULLABALOO resonated with me, and fans will get the reference when Olyphant-as-Stacy leaves the set on his motorcycle. A lot of online critics are complaining that the film isn’t up to the auteur’s par, but I call bullshit on that… ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is vintage Tarantino, an ode to Old Hollywood that’s a movie buff’s dream. It’s 2 and 1/2 hour running time flew by, and by all means, go see it! You can thank me later!

Fondly dedicated to the memory of Sharon Tate (1943-1969)

Cracked Rear Viewer Turns 6 Months Old!

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It seems like just yesterday little CRV was born, but it was actually June 26, 2015! On that date I debuted my first post, a look at the early Peter Lorre noir The Face Behind the Mask. I was so green at the time I didn’t even know how to add pictures! Cracked Rear Viewer has come a long way since then, with a loyal following that seems to grow week by week. There’s now 154 posts (including this one) to choose from, covering everything from horror and science fiction to Western and gangster dramas to comedy classics. Though my main focus is films from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, I’ve occasionally stepped out of that box to look at movies from other eras. I’ve added ongoing series like CLEANING OUT THE DVR, THAT’S BLAXPLOITATION!, PRE-CODE CONFIDENTIAL, and the latest, ROCKIN’ N THE FILM WORLD, as well as NEWS & NOTES for non-film posts. I’ve recently begun running PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS, featuring trailers for upcoming films in review. But I wouldn’t be working on this labor of love without you Dear Readers who take the time to follow me on this trek through film history. Thanks to one and all!

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And according to you Dear Readers, here are the top ten (actually eleven…there’s a tie!) most popular posts of the past six months:

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And a list of (mostly earlier) posts that might spark your interest:

There’s much more to see, including some full films and short subjects to watch and enjoy! And much more to come as I look forward to another six months of movie madness to share with you, Dear Reader. So stay tuned, and don’t forget to bring your own popcorn! As Stan Lee would say, “Excelsior!”

Pre-Code Confidential #1: James Cagney in LADY KILLER (Warner Brothers, 1933)

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Pre-Code Hollywood movies like LADY KILLER are always fun to watch. They’re filled with risqué business, sly innuendos, and are much more adult in content than post-1934 films. This little gem features James Cagney in one of his patented tough guy roles as Dan Quigley. Dan’s a brash, cocky movie usher who gets fired for insulting his patrons. While indulging in rolling some dice at a hotel lobby, he sees Myra (Mae Clarke)  drop her purse as she’s leaving. Ladies man Dan follows her to her apartment with it, hoping for some afternoon delight.

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Dan and Myra

Myra’s grateful, and offers him a drink (Her: “Chaser?” Him: “Always have been!”). Myra’s “brother-in-law” Duke (Douglass Dumbrille) emerges from the next room, and invites Dan to play a little poker. Losing all his dough, Dan leaves the apartment. He comes across a gentleman holding another purse in the hallway looking for Myra. Realizing he’s been set up, he storms back in and demands his money back. Yet another sucker comes in with a purse, and Dan muscles his way in on the con. Soon he’s leading the gang, and they make enough to open their own speakeasy, the Seven-Eleven Club. The gang branches out into burglary, targeting a rich widow. Dan fakes a car accident, weaseling his way into her home to get a layout of the joint. Things go awry when a maid is “brutally slugged” and dies. One of the gang squeals and gets iced by his pals just as the cops raid the Seven-Eleven. The gang takes it on the lam, with Dan and Myra ending up in LA. The coppers pick him up at the train station for questioning, and hold him on bail. He calls Myra at their pre-arranged hotel room to post bond, but the devious dame has hooked up with Duke scramed to Mexico, leaving Dan high and dry. Dan’s released when “New York can’t get the goods” on him, with a warning to find employment in 48 hours or get out of town. At a pool hall, Dan’s discovered by a Hollywood producer looking for new faces, and begins working as an extra in a prison picture.

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LADY KILLER now shifts gears to give us a backstage look at Hollywood. Cagney does bits as a con and an Indian chief (!) as the tone turns from gangster pic to comedy. He meets up with leading lady Lois Underwood (Margret Lindsey) and becomes a star in his own right. Seems the studio’s looking for the “rough and ready” type, and Dan writes bogus fan letters extolling his popularity! Now a star (complete with pencil-thin moustache), Dan and Lois start dating. She facetiously tells him she wants “a crate of monkeys, Tyrolean yodelers, and an elephant” for her birthday party, and wise guy Dan obliges in a hysterical scene.

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Dan’s still the same street kid he’s always been, as we see where he makes a critic literally eat his words (an actor’s dream!). Dan brings Lois to his apartment, only to find Myra waiting in his bed! Lois storms out. In a scene that could only happen in a Pre-Code movie, he drags Myra out by her hair and kicks her ass out the door! It’s not the first time Cagney brutalized Clarke on screen. Film fans all remember the classic grapefruit scene in PUBLIC ENEMY.

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Next day, we find the old gang back in town (including Myra), wanting Dan’s Hollywood contacts to set up more robberies. Dan gives then ten grand to keep away from him and leave Hollywood, but Duke and his boys take a guided tour of star’s homes to do their own dirty work. Lois’s house gets robbed and a cop is killed during the escape. Dan busts in on their hideout, gun in hand, and demands the loot to return to Lois. The cops then arrive and arrest him, allowing the gang to flee. They bail him out, and Myra is waiting for him in a car. She confesses to Dan he’s being set up by his old pals who plan to bump him off on the highway. But Dan’s no dummy. He’s alerted the coppers, and they’re in pursuit. A wild car chase with tommy-guns blazing sets up the final shootout. Dan is exonerated, and he and Lois fly to Yuma for their wedding.

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LADY KILLER is fast paced fun, loaded with snappy dialogue. One of the gang asks Dan where he’d like them to go, and he replies with a smile, “Need I say?” Offering one of them some fruit, Dan slyly says, “You like fruit. That I know.” In one scene, he sneakily kisses Myra on the breast (through her dress). The film’s director Roy Del Ruth got his start as a Mack Sennett gag writer. The veteran also worked with Cagney in BLONDE CRAZY, TAXI, and BLESSED EVENT. Other films include THE BABE RUTH STORY, the noir RED LIGHT, and horror entries PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE and THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. Del Ruth was by no means a top-flight director, but he did some interesting films and his career deserves a second look.

LADY KILLER abounds with familiar faces, Besides Dumbrille (who’s good as Duke), the gang members are Raymond Hatton, Leslie Fenton, and Russell Hopton. Others in various roles are Henry O’Neill, Luis Alberni, Herman Bing, George Chandler, Edwin Maxwell, Dewey Robinson, Sam McDaniel, and Dennis O’Keefe. While not a classic, LADY KILLER is a great example of Pre-Code filmmaking, with an energetic performance by Cagney. Pre-Code fans, gangster buffs, and movie manques looking for a peek at the soundstages of 30s Hollywood will all enjoy this well made time capsule.

Happy Birthday Robert Mitchum: OUT OF THE PAST (RKO 1947)

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One of my favorite actors, the laconic, iconic Robert Mitchum was born August 6, 1917 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Rugged Robert had a wandering spirit, riding the rails in the days of the Depression, and even did time on a Georgia chain gang. Mitchum eventually ended up in California , and was bitten by the acting bug. After small roles in Laurel & Hardy comedies and Hopalong Cassidy oaters, Mitchum got noticed in a series of B-Westerns based on the novels of Zane Grey. His big break came as a tough sergeant in 1945’s THE STORY OF G.I. JOE, which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. But the role that made him a star was world-weary private eye Jeff Bailey in the film noir classic OUT OF THE PAST.

We meet Bailey running a gas station in the small town of Bridgeport, California (an homage to Mitchum’s hometown, perhaps?) He has a mute boy only known as The Kid (Dickie Moore) working for him, and a pretty girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston). Life is good until old acquaintance Joe Stefano (Paul Valentine) drops by and tells Jeff his ex-employer Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) wants to see him. Jeff has Ann drive him to Whit’s estate in Lake Tahoe and relates the story of his past in flashback: His real name is Markham. a former private eye once hired by Whit to find errant girlfriend Kathy Moffat (Jane Greer). Kathy put two slugs in Whit’s gut and absconded with forty grand. But Whit says he doesn’t care about the money, he just wants Kathy back. Jeff tracks her down to Acapulco, and immediately becomes infatuated with her. She plays along, but knows why he’s there. She confesses she did shoot Whit, but didn’t take any money. The two begin their doomed affair (Kathy: “Won’t you believe me?” Jeff: “Baby, I don’t care” as they embrace). Whit and Joe show up and Jeff throws them off the trail.

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Jeff and Kathy wind up in San Francisco, where they’re spotted by Jeff’s former partner Fisher (Steve Brodie), now working for Whit. The couple gets a cabin deep in the woods, but Fisher trails them. The two men duke it out, when Kathy shoots Fisher. She takes off in the car and leaves Jeff  to bury the body…

Flashback over, Ann drops Jeff off at Whit’s. There he discovers Kathy’s “back in the fold”, as Whit puts it. Whit wants to hire Jeff for a new job, obtaining some incriminating tax papers from Whit’s blackmailing attorney Leonard Eels (Ken Niles). Kathy goes to Jeff alone and tries to explain things, but he bitterly tells her to get lost. Jeff’s sent back to San Francisco to meet Eels’ secretary Meta (Rhonda Fleming), and put the plan in play. Sensing a frame-up going on, he tries to warn Eels. When Jeff goes back to Eels apartment later, sure enough, the lawyer’s been killed. Jeff hides the body in the basement. Jeff sneaks over to Kathy’s, and discovers her calling the building manager about Eels. The scheme has failed, and Kathy tells Jeff she was forced to sign an affidavit stating Jeff murdered Fisher, and had to go along with the plan. Jeff obtains the papers from Whit’s club, and Joe and Kathy call Whit, who puts the word out, and Jeff’s now wanted for two murders. Joe is sent by Kathy to follow the Kid to lead him to Jeff. He’s about to shoot Jeff when the Kid snags him with a fishing hook, and Joe falls to a watery grave. Jeff confronts Kathy and Whit, and tells Whit the truth. Returning briefly to Ann, Jeff goes back to Whit’s and finds him shot dead on the floor. Kathy’s running the show now, and is ready to split with Jeff (Kathy: “I think we deserve a break”  Jeff: “We deserve each other”). As she gathers some clothes, Jeff discretely calls the cops. They drive down the highway when Kathy sees a roadblock. Realizing Jeff’s betrayed her, she shoots him. The car careens down the highway as the cops shoot at it, and both Jeff and Kathy wind up dead.

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Pretty bleak stuff. OUT OF THE PAST can get confusing at times, but Mitchum’s the glue that holds it all together. His Jeff Bailey/Markham is tough but vulnerable, smarter than his adversaries, always with a wisecrack on his lips. Robert Mitchum in that trenchcoat and slouch hat became the symbol of a film noir anti-hero. The sleepy-eyed star’s career almost ended in 1948 after a pot bust, but he returned to the screen for almost another half-century. Some of his best (in my opinion) were HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951), RIVER OF NO RETURN (with Marilyn Monroe, 1954), NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957), THUNDER ROAD (1958, where Mitchum even sings the title song!), THE SUNDOWNERS (1960), the original CAPE FEAR (1962), EL DORADO (with John Wayne, 1966), RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970), and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (as Phillip Marlowe, 1975). He also starred in the popular 1983 TV-miniseries THE WINDS OF WAR. Robert Mitchum had a long and diverse career as a true Hollywood star, and though he died on July 7, 1997, we still have that tremendous body of work to look back on. OUT OF THE PAST isn’t just one of Mitchum’s best films, it’s a film noir masterpiece that has influenced generations, and will continue to do so as long as there are movies to be made. Happy Birthday, Robert!

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Beach Blanket Bummers: SURF PARTY and WILD ON THE BEACH

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American International Pictures created a whole new film genre with the release of BEACH PARTY (1964). The formula was simple: take a group of attractive youngsters and put them on a beach with plenty of sand, surfing, and singing. Add in some romance and comedy. Sprinkle with veteran character actors and the latest pop idols and voila! Hollywood took notice of AIP’s success and studios big and small grabbed their surfboards trying to ride the box-office waves. 20th Century Fox was the first to jump on the hodad-wagon with SURF PARTY (1964), followed quickly by WILD ON THE BEACH (1965).

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Unfunny Business: Bela Lugosi in ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945)

wally-brown-mainBela Lugosi has always been one of my favorite actors. The master of the macabre sent shivers down my spine in such classics as DRACULA, WHITE ZOMBIE, and THE RAVEN.  But by the 1940s, morphine addicted and desperate for work, Lugosi took acting jobs wherever he could find them. He always gave his best in whatever he did, even in low budget nonsense like THE DEVIL BAT (a personal favorite of mine). In fact, if it wasn’t for Lugosi’s presence, most of these films wouldn’t be worth watching today. ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY is one of them.

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They’re Out There: IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)

it1 IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was Universal Studio’s first foray into the realm of science fiction (excluding the execrable ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS). The studio was known for its classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman, but by the 1950s times had changed. The Atomic Age had been launched and reports of UFO sightings filled the tabloids. Science fiction films were the latest rage in screen scares, as was the then-new process of 3-D. Universal covered all the bases on this one, including a script based on a story by sci-fi titan Ray Bradbury.

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