Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is something of a departure and a homecoming for the prolific director. Some long time fans didn’t like the slow, brooding, time capsule love letter to the Los Angeles and Hollywood of 1969, feeling there was enough characteristic action and blood for a Tarantino movie. But if you look at his earlier stuff, there was a lot more dialog that shooting in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and a lot less in Jackie Brown though violence still marks important moments in all three films, as it does in this one.
When I was younger, I read a lot about the Manson Family, the Tate and LaBianca murders and devoured “Helter Skelter” by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, and I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the music and movies of that era, so every little reference and detail in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was like candy for me—I dare say, this may be one of my favorite, if not my favorite of all his movies.
As I said, there isn’t much violence in this one, but there are a few firearms. The main character, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in what he believes is the twilight of his career. For years he was a beloved TV star as the lead on a popular western show called “Bounty Law.” But in his own words, he ruined the show’s final season because he took a shot at becoming a movie star. And he did make a few movies, several of which are highlighted by name or in posters around his house—notably a western called “Tanner” and a WWII action movie called “The 14 Fists of McClusky.”
Ever since his movie career fizzled out, he’s been playing heavies in guest spots on TV shows, usually losing at the end of the episode in a fight with the series’ hero.
On Bounty Law as Jack Cahill, Dalton carries and uses a Colt Single Action Army revolver, as is par for the course in almost any western on the big or small screen. We see him use his gun a few times in pieces of old episodes and promos for the show.
Colt Single Action Army
Much of the first half of the film takes place on a day in February, 1969. On this day, Dalton is filming a guest spot on a new TV western called “Lancer,” again, as the one-off bad guy for the pilot episode.
He carries a Colt SAA revolver with dark grips in a black gunbelt and holster adorned with silver medallions, befitting a TV cowboy bad guy.
The second big chunk of the movie takes place on August 8, 1969, the night of the infamous Manson Murders in the real world. In this fictional world, it’s the day that Rick and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) return from six months of shooting spaghetti westerns in Italy and Spain. Rick and Cliff get drunk at a Mexican restaurant as Rick’s new wife tries to sleep off her jet lag in her new home.
They return home to Cielo Drive and a drunk Rick makes a pitcher of margaritas before going outside to yell at the “damn hippies” idling their old beater outside his home with a busted muffler. Those hippies turn out to be Manson Family members Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel, along with Linda Kasabian. Instead of heading up the kill to the Tate house, the killers turn their attention to Rick Dalton, not knowing Cliff is also in the house, having just smoked an LSD-laced cigarette.
Tex is armed with a long-barreled Colt Single Action Army, which fits as he fancies himself as a cowboy.
In real life, Watson carried a Hi-Standard Double Nine Longhorn “Buntline” style revolver in .22 LR when committing the murders. According to “Helter Skelter”, the gun jammed somehow when Watson was murdering aspiring screenwriter and friend of Roman Polanski’s, Wojciech Frykowski. Frykowski and his wife were staying at the house while Polanski was filming a movie abroad. When the gun jammed, Watson used the revolver to beat Frykowski to death, breaking half of the grip in the process.
That’s one of the greatest things about this movie—it literally takes one of the most loathsome and shocking crimes of the 1960s, one that many say helped turned the tide of the national attitude at a crucial moment in the country’s history, and it rewrites it. The cowardly would-be murderers get their come-uppance and are prevented from doing “the Devil’s business.”
Watson bursts through the front door of Dalton’s house with the revolver, directly confronting Cliff, who is beginning to trip pretty hard at this point. The gun doesn’t do him any good though. Before he can fire it, Cliff’s pitbull starts ripping his arm apart. The gun ends up in Krenwinke’s hands after she too is mauled by the dog, but she doesn’t do much but fire it in the air a few times before crashing through a glass door and entering the pool area…
Ithaca 37 Shotgun
When the busy day in February winds down and Cliff brings Rick home, they decide to drink a six pack, order pizza, and watch Rick’s episode of FBI, where he plays a bad guy who uses an Ithaca 37 pump action shotgun to take out the men in an Army truck and steal their cargo of machine guns.
While you may have thought Tarantino just shot a segment with Leonardo DiCaprio that looked like an old episode of FBI, it’s not quite so. He actually took an actual episode of the show and inserted Rick Dalton, replacing none other than Burt Reynolds. Check out the original footage below. The segment show in the movie is at about the 1:40 mark.
This is similar to what they did with the footage from The Great Escape where Dalton replaced Steve McQueen…and it looks absolutely seamless.
UPDATE: According to the special features on the movie’s Blu Ray release, it was a bit more complicated than that. They actually reshot a lot of the footage from the scene, including everything with DiCaprio. He was not digitally inserted into the old footage. The film’s vehicle team actually found the very same Army truck that was used in that old _FBI episode, just chilling in an L.A. garage somewhere. They fixed up the paintjob and used it to recreate the old Burt Reynolds scene along with a pickup made to look just like the one from the show._
We see a couple clips of Rick Dalton using an M2 Flamethrower, which was his signature weapon in a movie called “The 14 Fists of McClusky” (we assume he is McClusky, with 14 fists but only one eye). He uses it to roast a group of Nazis in the movie within a movie, and we also see a quick and funny clip of Dalton training with the flamethrower.
Of course, in the final act, we find out Dalton has kept the flamethrower all these years in his shed, and he retrieves it when a bloody Manson girl crashes through his window and into the pool where he has been peacefully and drunkenly floating. Krenwinkel fires Tex’s revolver blindly in a fit of pain and adrenaline as Dalton retrieves the flamethrower from the shed.
The M2 makes quick work of her, not that there was much left after the can of dog food to the face…and the actual dog mauling.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now available on VOD services and on Blu Ray and DVD on Dec. 10