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Once Upon a Hollywood (2019)

Rod Taylor is an undercurrent throughout director Quentin Tarantino's 2019 movie set in 1969 Los Angeles.

In "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor at a crossroads in his career. Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, Rick's stuntman/assistant/best buddy. Much has been reported about the similarity between this movie pairing and the relationship between actor Burt Reynolds and stuntman/director/best buddy Hal Needham.

But, as Rod Taylor biographer Stephen Vagg has pointed out, "The relationship between actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth has parallels to Rodís close relationship with stuntman Fred Hakim."

Fred Hakim with Rod Taylor and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" characters Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton.

Vagg elaborates:

Rod met Hakim when the latter was a grip on the set of "Do Not Disturb" (1965). The two hit it off and Hakim spent the next decade as Rodís general assistant/stuntman/stand-in/driver/whatever -- like Cliff was for Rick in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." Rod was single [most of that] time, and Fred and his wife, Dolores, moved in with the actor for a period.

Hakim was credited as an assistant on three productions where Rod was producer: "Chuka," "Bearcats!" and "Partisan." Hakim died in a car crash in Yugoslavia during the making of "Partisan." Taylor subsequently employed stuntman/actor Terry Wilson as an assistant. But, like Rick, he needed him less once he got married, in Rodís case to Carol Kikumura in 1980.


Rod Taylor does appear briefly onscreen in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," a movie awash with references to other movies, both real and fictional.

An early scene has the character Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) watching a Rick Dalton movie. In the background, you can catch a glimpse of Rod Taylor on the screen in a clip from the "Partizani," which is standing in for a fictional film, "The 14 Fists of McCluskey."

Screen capture from "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."

Screen capture from "Partizani."

"The 14 Fists of McCluskey" is one of those "guys on a mission" movies that Tarantino loves so much. In real life, Rod's "Dark of the Sun" is one of Tarantino's favorites. "Partizani" (aka "Hell River") also falls into that category, and Tarantino once screened his personal prints of the two movies at his Los Angeles revival theater, the New Beverly Cinema.

In the July 3, 2019, edition of the Pure Cinema Podcast for the New Beverly Cinema, Tarantino excitedly described his inspiration for "The 14 Fists of McCluskey" and the casting he dreamed up for it.

The inspiration was "The Secret Invasion," a 1964 film directed by Roger Corman. That real movie had Stewart Granger in the lead role, with Edd Byrnes as the No. 2 guy. It also featured Raf Vallone, Mickey Rooney, Henry Silva and Spela Rozin.

Tarantino then elaborated on his movie-within-a-movie casting for "The 14 Fists of McCluskey."

So in my movie, Rod Taylor would have been McCluskey, so he's the star. Virna Lisi would be the beautiful Italian partisan that joins them. Rick Dalton is the No. 2 guy, [the] "second lieutenant," Sgt. Mike Lewis. Sal Mineo would have been another one of the guys. Adam West would have been in it as the sympathetic German, and Van Johnson would have been "Brigadier General Exposition" -- the guy who sends them to blow up the dam.

Coincidentally (or probably not), Adam West plays a sympathetic German soldier in "Partizani."

In a deleted scene for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," the characters Rick Dalton and Marvin Schwarzs mention that "The 14 Fists of McCluskey" was directed by Paul Wendkos and praise him as an underrated action movie specialist. Wendkos is a real director who helmed the Gidget films, actioners like "Battle for the Coral Sea," as well as scores of TV episodes and movies.

Graphic artist Federico Mancosu created this faux item in an Italian magazine for "The 14 Fists of McCluskey" premiere with Rod Taylor, Virna Lisi and Rick Dalton.


A scene in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" depicts Rick Dalton's heroics in "The 14 Fists of McCluskey." It shows him torching a group of Nazi officers with a flamethrower. It's a clear reference to the climactic scenes in "Inglourious Basterds," a Quentin Tarantino movie that included Brad Pitt and Rod Taylor in the cast.




From the collection of Stephan Wellink, producer of "Rod Taylor: Pulling no Punches": A photo of Rod Taylor, Fred Hakim and actress Xenia Gratsos/Brioni Farrell in "Partizani."


Related on-site:

Partizani / Hell River

Inglourious Basterds

Dark of the Sun

External links:


Federico Mancosu's faux photo of the "14 Fists..." premiere.

Rick Dalton faux filmography

Pure Cineman Podcast for the New Beverly Cinema, July 3, 2019, with Quentin Tarantino. Discussion of "The 14 Fists of McCluskey" about one hour into the podcast.

Tarantino's March Madness:
The New Beverly Cinema screened Dark of the Sun
and Hell River (Partizani)
in 2011.

A poster designed by graphic artist Tony Stella.
Click for full version at
Tony Stella's Twitter