Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

While most of those hereabouts have some enthusiasm for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there are some naysayers turned off by the violence or the treatment of women or the constantly shifting focus of the narrative. It is understandable that some would consider these and perhaps others—the treatment of Bruce Lee, for example—bothersome, but the film works for me. I am bothered by the Manson gang sections because I find this subject uninteresting and depressing, and the violence at the end is a bit much for a squeamish sissy like your humble correspondent. But I still love the film and will admit that all of Tarantino’s films, with the notable except of Pulp Fiction, a solid masterpiece, offer something to quibble about. That said, I just finished reading Tarantino’s novelization and offer a few comments below.

The book isn’t really a novelization because most such treatments stick to the basic plot and characters with few embellishments. Tarantino offers a few expanded versions of scenes from the film but at least 70 percent is new stuff. What’s best are the riffs about movies and TV shows. Rick, of course, wants to work, to be a star, to regain the momentum he had when he was the big gun on Bounty Law. Just as Tarantino is nostalgic for the olden days, primarily the 60s and 70s, so is Rick, even though these days just occurred. There is considerable melancholy self-pity here, but QT never pushes the pathos too far.

The best chapter is about Cliff’s preference for foreign films, his shifting tastes, and his taking a date to see I Am Curious (Yellow), perhaps the best-written section of the novel. The paragraphs about loving Alan Ladd are also quite charming. The chapters about the Lancer TV series are very good. Rick’s exchanges with the little girl, the best part of the film, are greatly expanded and lead to a wonderful final chapter, with a lovely cameo by Steve McQueen, showing a softer, more sentimental side than anything in Tarantino’s films. The agent Marvin Schwarz also has a much larger role in the novel, and I would have loved to have seen/heard Pacino deliver some of his lines. While Pitt deservedly won an Oscar, DiCaprio gives a very brave performance in the film, revealing an actor’s insecurities in such a raw way that it must have made some in the Academy uncomfortable. There is a lot more of this rawness, as well as Rick’s prejudices, in the novel.

Tarantino’s dedication includes acknowledging actors whose stories about the old days heavily influenced him. One is Bruce Dern, also mentioned in the novel a few times. If you are interested in the old days, I highly recommend Dernsie’s constantly fascinating memoir. Even if all his stories aren’t exactly true, they are drawn from the spirit of his distinctive personality.

The novel made me nostalgic for 60s TV Westerns, even though I saw very few of them, watching little TV other than sports after getting my driver’s license in 1962. I have never seen Lancer but did watch a few eps of The High Chaparral because of Linda Cristal.

In both the film and the novel, Rick reads a Western novel by Marvin H. Albert. In addition to his Western and crime novels, Albert wrote 23 novelizations of films and TV shows from 1958 to 1987, including ones for Pillow Talk, The Pink Panther, and De Palma’s The Untouchables. I read the one for What’s New, Pussycat? after a friend gave it to me and remember there’s a good scene not in the film, but I can’t recall any details.

You can quibble about some of what Tarantino includes being self-indulgent or shoehorned in, as with the Aldo Ray chapter. I could have done without the dog fighting. I regret that Tarantino could not find a place for the film’s best line: “Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans.” And though I love you, QT, Sam Wanamaker would never have said “exact same.”

“Stewart Granger was the biggest single prick I ever worked with, and I worked with Jack Lord.”

“Foreign films, Cliff thought, were more like novels. They didn’t care if you liked the lead characters or not. And Cliff found that intriguing.”

“But most of all she hates that it’s a convertible and that Roman always insists on driving it with the top down. Roman jokes with Warren Beatty that ‘Life’s too short not to drive a convertible.’”

“Then the younger one reminds him. ‘Wow, Rick, isn’t our job great? We’re so lucky, ain’t we?’”

First seen: Cumberland/Vinings, GA.

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