Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest opus from favorite contemporary filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, was anxiously awaited by yours truly like a kid awaits the end of the school year and the start of summer vacation. Seriously. Everything I had read and seen about it had me practically drooling in anticipation. Then I watched it.

(L-R) Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth and Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton leaning against the facade of Hollywood’s famed Egyptian Theater.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad picture, at all. It’s just that I guess my anticipation of it, had me expecting  more.
There’s also much to recommend. My family and I moved to California from New York in 1968 so I’m familiar with what the southern California scene of 1969 was like in those days. Tarantino’s re-creation of that time and place is something to marvel at throughout the film. Whether it’s the bus benches advertising Hobo Kelly, or the brief TV moment showing late night L.A. horror host Seymour, it brought back nostalgic childhood memories for yours truly.
Most of the performances in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood are also uniformly excellent. A true standout is Brad Pitt as the laconic stunt double and gopher to Leonardo DiCaprio’s fading TV star.
I say ‘most’ performances as some of them are downright strange. The film is peppered with cameos of real-life individuals and some are just strange. An actor playing Bruce Lee challenges Pitt to a fight in one of my favorite scenes and one of the most controversial in its portrayal of the legendary martial artist.
In another sequence, British Actor Damian Lewis makes a brief appearance as Steve McQueen at a party at the Playboy Mansion in a performance that can best be described as bizarre. While there is a resemblance, in speaking with McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, we both agreed that the speech pattern Lewis invokes is just plain weird. He may have been trying to mask his British accent but the result is nothing like McQueen. Bizarre.
So, what is it about the film that received a six minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film festival that I have a problem saying that it’s truly great? Simply put, the main character played by DiCaprio is just not worthy of much sympathy and being the central focus of the film, it’s the key factor keeping me from loving the film. Hate to say it but it’s true.
I won’t give away any more as I hate when writers do that sort of thing. Suffice to say, I’ll probably see it on DVD, if only to see again my Lee Marvin Point Blank interview subject, Clu Gulager as an aging Westwood bookstore owner. Until then, I wonder why such a big Lee Marvin fan as Tarantino left Lee Marvin out of the film when he was big box office in 1969. How big?  Check out Lee Marvin Point Blank to find that out. In the mean time….
-Dwayne Epstein

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The great Clu Gulager turned 88 years-old on November 16th. In honor of that auspicious event, I chose a never-before-seen excerpt from my interview with him back in January, 1997. It took place on a frosty morning at the Farmer’s Market and he could not have been nicer nor more forthcoming.
Having worked with Lee Marvin in 1964’s The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, Clu Gulager’s input was invaluable to my research to LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK. One of the many stories he imparted that I could not fit into the final version of the book had to do with a scene in the film between Marvin, Gulager and future president, Ronald Reagan in his last acting role. Throughout most of the movie, Gulager and Marvin’s characters had been bullying people to get information. When they get to Reagan, the script called for a secretary in Reagan’s outer office to try and stop them before they get to Reagan. Marvin believed it would be a waste of screen time as the audience would’ve already seen them do it previously in the film. Reagan disagreed as it would be taking lines away from a fellow actor, in this case, the secretary. Director Siegel came up with a compromise in which the actress is shown trying to stop them as they barrel through into Reagan’s office. Gulager had told me that version as seen below. However, when he spoke at Santa Monica’s Aero Theater after a screening of the film, he told a much more colorful version of the same story, adding that actress in question was actually Reagan’s paramour (!)

(L-R) Moderator Jim Hemphill, Point Blank producer Jud Bernard, yours truly, Christopher Marvin and Clu Gulager on stage at the Aero Theater as Gulager gives a VERY different version of the story below.

(L-R) Moderator Jim Hemphill, Point Blank producer Jud Bernard, yours truly, Christopher Marvin and Clu Gulager on stage at the Aero Theater as Gulager gives a VERY different version of the story below.

Dwayne Epstein: OK, on The Killers
Clu Gulager: Let me tell you about that. We came in to do our thing. Where we had to go into the offices of Reagan. I knew nothing of what Don said in his book about this- the lady being Reagan’s sweetheart. I knew nothing about that. Obviously, it had occurred. I think maybe that ticked off Lee because he was pissed off about something. I know they stopped us. It didn’t make any sense to stop us there with the secretary. She said something and then came on. We would have just swept right in there. We wouldn’t let anyone get in out way, apparently.

Lee Marvin's son, Christopher meets up with Clue Gulager who he had not seen since he was a child.

Lee Marvin’s son, Christopher, meets up with Clue Gulager, whom he had not seen since he was a child.

Dwayne: Which was Lee’s idea. He just wanted to rush right into the office.
Clu: Which is the best way. (mimes Lee) “Watch what I’m going to do here”. Lee would rehearse it. We rehearsed it once. Reagan sat behind his desk and Lee did it a certain way in the first rehearsal. Reagan acted a certain way. We rehearsed it again for lights and so forth, so Lee did it another way. He did another interpretation. Mr. Reagan did exactly the same thing he did in the first take. No matter what Lee would do, he would do exactly the same reactions. He had it all planned in his mind. So, we did it a third time, a very complex shot that needed a third rehearsal with the lights and sound, actors up to par, dress rehearsal. Lee did it another way and Reagan did exactly the same thing. Lee said of Reagan at the time, “That guy couldn’t act worth shit. He couldn’t act his way out of a fucking paper bag.” In other words what Lee was saying to me was that you really ride with the situation of the scene. It’s not all preplanned. You have to kind of give and take a little to make it more of a …he was saying that Mr. Reagan didn’t have the ability and so forth. I happened to think, my observation, I loved what Ron did in the scene. I loved what he did in the film. They may have cut out a lot of shit, I don’t know. Whatever they left in, I thought worked for Reagan. Anyway, he was really adamantly against it, Mr, Reagan. I never understood why until I read Don’s book.
Dwayne: Siegel’s book comments on the same incident. I got the sense from other people that Lee’s dislike of Reagan happened even before the movie started. I think they may have worked before together in TV.
Clu: Oh, a lot. What makes me think this is maybe Lee was, I mean Don was stretching it a bit. I don’t believe at that point, Reagan fooled around on his wife. I do not believe that he did. That’s my recollection. I knew him a little bit and I knew her. They were very much in love and I do not believe he had a girl out there who was his paramour and so forth. I didn’t believe it. I don’t believe that Reagan would have stopped the scene and said “Don, I stopped this and I’ll walk off unless….”. I don’t believe it.
Dwayne: Unless I misinterpreted, I remember it as being Reagan, having been SAG president, was very big that every actor gets their line and the woman had several lines. The way Lee wanted to do it, just walk right through. Siegel had said he thought Reagan got on a soapbox; “I’ve never seen such as thing where an actor takes lines out of another actor’s mouth”, etc.
Clu: It happens all the time and it should happen. We know what’s best. Actors are very instinctive.

Clu Gulager signs my copy of Lee Marvin: Point Blank in the lobby of the Aero Theatre. Behind him are (L-R) publisher Tim Schaffner, Lee's daughter Cynthia Michaels, Christopher Marvin, and Cynthia's son, Lee's only grandchild, Matthew Michaels.

Clu Gulager signs my copy of Lee Marvin: Point Blank in the lobby of the Aero Theatre. Behind him are (L-R) publisher Tim Schaffner, Lee’s daughter Cynthia Michaels, Christopher Marvin, and Cynthia’s son, Lee’s only grandchild, Matthew Michaels.

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