Gary Wells: Once upon a Time in Hollywood (Spoiler) – American Actors Abroad

As a fellow ‘vintage leisure’ enthusiast, did you struggle to get your head around the ending to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? You might not be alone. In this interim episode, first published in its own right in 2021, our leading contributor Gary Wells offers his fascinating personal take on the unexpected twist that slightly tampers with history. (Spoiler warning reminder!).

This segment originally appeared as a post-credits bonus on our very first podcast together, a deep dive into the 1970 concert documentary, Elvis That’s The Way It Is.

Companion Newsletter

Since this episode was first published, Gary has expanded the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood section on his own website. Articles include detailed commentary on the movie, the novelisation and the music. As with our podcast and this newsletter, his review does contain spoilers.

As Gary explains, one of the film’s historically fascinating aspects is the portrayal, through the experience of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), of a generation of American actors who escaped the constraints of Hollywood and found starring roles in European cinema.

With Dalton’s career in decline, his agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), suggests a move to Europe to star in ‘Spaghetti Westerns’.

Gary writes,

“…Tarantino is paying particular homage to these actors that left Hollywood and to the films they made abroad that few people in North America got to see. The prevailing thought has always been that these films are somehow substandard but Tarantino feels – and many of us agree – that several of these films have much to offer and many are – dare I say – fine cinema with distinct charms…”

“…Italian filmmakers were out to redefine the western film but, in order to attract audiences, they wanted recognizable American actors to star...L’uomo della valle maledetta (Man of the Cursed Valley, 1964) was Ty Hardin’s intro to European filmmaking and its release date places him right on the ground floor of Americans working in international films…”

It wasn’t just the Western that was being reimagined; producers of Sword-and-Sandal epics and James Bond inspired Eurospy movies were crying out for American lead actors.

Read more about Ty Hardin and Dan Vadis, in the first two instalments in Gary’s series on American Actors Abroad.

Ty Hardin’s Death on the Run (1967), directed by Sergio Corbucci, became Rick Dalton’s Operazione Dyn-O-Mite, with clips from the real movie adapted by Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

In our podcast, Gary talks us through Quentin Tarantino’s rewriting of history, which also occurs in the director’s Inglorious Basterds, with the successful assassination of Hitler. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Charles Manson’s murderers get more than they bargain for and innocent young lives are mercifully saved.

Gary writes;

“…But Quentin Tarantino does not minimize these historic murders – he erases them. With Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino cleanses history. One of the major villains of modern times has had his crimes against humanity, Los Angeles and Hollywood expunged from the record…”

“Everybody is OK”. These brief, haunting moments at the end of the film are incredibly moving. If only.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a multi-layered experience. For me at least, learning more about it, and the history behind it, raises the intensity, enjoyment and lasting emotional impact of the movie to a whole new level. Very special thanks to Gary for sharing his insights.

A critic in the New Yorker was not quite as big a fan as us, describing Tarantino’s vision of the 1960s as ‘obscenely regressive’. Oh well. ( Image by Andrew Cooper (Sony Pictures), from the New Yorker article).

Thanks also to Steve Collins for technical support and to Gainesville for our podcast theme.

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