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Film / Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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"In this town, it can all change. Like that."

Rick: Actors are required to do a lot of dangerous stuff. Cliff here is meant to carry the load.
Interviewer: Is that how you describe your job, Cliff?
Cliff: What, carrying his load? Yeah, it's about right.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the ninth film directed and written by Quentin Tarantino. It was released in America on July 26, 2019.

In 1969 Los Angeles, television actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Stunt Double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) embark on an odyssey to rebuild their careers after the cancellation of the Western Series they were employed on, Bounty Law. Rick's neighbor in Tinseltown happens to be Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).

The cast also includes Dakota Fanning as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Damon Herriman as Charles Manson, Bruce Dern as George Spahn, Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy, Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring, Luke Perry as Wayne Maunder (his final role), Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, Al Pacino as Marvin Schwarz, and Nicholas Hammond as Sam Wanamaker.

In 2021, Tarantino himself wrote a novelization of the film (his literary debut, funnily enough) which expanded on the movie's events.

Previews: Teaser, Trailer.

Once Upon a Trope in Hollywood:

  • The '60s: The film is set in 1969, and there's no shortage of visual and musical clues that the film is set in the late sixties. The clothing and hairstyles are typically 1960s, hippies abound and Real Life 1968-1969 movies such as Krakatoa, East of Java, The Night They Raided Minsky's, Romeo and Juliet, and The Wrecking Crew (featuring the real Sharon Tate) are screened in theaters. As for the music, the teaser trailer uses "Straight Shooter" by The Mamas & the Papas and "Bring A Little Lovin" by Los Bravos (both songs were released in 1966), and the official trailer has "Good Thing" (also from 1966) by Paul Revere and the Raiders and Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" (1969).
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Sharon Tate is introduced on a Pan-Am plane. Pan Am was Margot Robbie's breakout role outside her native Australia.
    • In a somewhat meta-example, in the Japanese dub, Bruce Lee is voiced by Ryu Morimiya, who voiced Ah Sahm in the dub of Warrior (2019), a TV series based in the eponymous actor's writings.
    • In a straight example, in the Latin American Spanish dub, Lee is voiced by Carlo Vázquez, who previously voiced him in the Latin American dub of The Legend of Bruce Lee.
    • The film spends a portion of the middle act following Rick starring as the heavy in the pilot episode of the Western TV series Lancer. Bruce Dern, who plays George Spahn, guest starred in two episodes of Lancer in 1968 and 1969. In fact, the official novelisation reveals that Scoot McNairy's character's (Bob "the businessman" Gilbert) in-universe actor is actually a younger version of Bruce.
    • Rick's wife who he meets after shooting movies in Italy is played by Lorenza Izzo, who was married to Tarantino's frequent collaborator Eli Roth after they met while shooting The Green Inferno in Chile.
  • Actor-Inspired Element: In-universe. Sam Wanamaker, the director of the Lancer episode Rick is shooting, praises him for the idea to toss the little girl at the end of the kidnapping negotiation scene. (See the Trivia page for out-of-universe examples.)
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Rick improvises a triple alliteration ("beaner bronco buster") during his scene in Lancer, which director Sam Wanamaker absolutely loves.
  • Advertised Extra:
    • The presence of Charles Manson and his "family" was heavily noted by the media in the lead-up to the film's release. While the family is a major presence in the film, Manson himself is in exactly one scene, which actually does fit his physical absence from the murders.
    • While still the third-largest role, based on the advertisements, you'd think Sharon Tate had a lot more to do and more substance in this story. Instead, she just pops up here and there, has little dialogue, and has no actual impact on the plot until the very end.
  • The Alleged Car: The Manson Family members' noisy, stinking 1959 Ford causes a confrontation with Dalton that splits the film's Alternate History from the real timeline.
  • Alternate History: Aside from apparently taking place in Tarantino's cinematic universe, Sharon Tate and her friends live. The people who killed them in real life don't. This can be quite relieving.
  • Always Someone Better: Rick laments that Steve McQueen beat him out for the role in The Great Escape. Meanwhile, McQueen laments that Roman Polanski beat him out for the love of Sharon Tate.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It appears to be commonly assumed that Cliff murdered his wife, though Rick insists that he's innocent, and he was apparently not convicted for the murder. We see a flashback of the two, alone on a boat, with her verbally abusing him while he holds a speargun in his lap. The shot seems to imply that he was about to shoot her, but the gun is not loaded and the scene ends before we find out what actually happened. The novelisation reveals that he actually did kill her with it, the impact from the spear tearing her in half.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "and Al Pacino".
  • Animal Motifs: Parodied with Cliff, whose association with dogs is an early humanizing element until the climax of the film, where his dog's loyalty is shown in her viciousness to protect Cliff.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Pussycat bluntly offers Cliff a blowjob when he gives her a ride out of Los Angeles. He politely turns her down, because she can't prove she's of legal age and he doesn't want any more trouble with the law. Pussy actually finds his refusal charming, and settles for resting her head in his lap as he drives, and thus he visits and checks out the Manson compound early.
  • Armor-Piercing Response:
    Bruce Lee: You're the one with the big mouth, and I would really enjoy closing it, especially in front of all my friends. But my hands are registered as lethal weapons. That means, we get into a fight, I accidentally kill you? I go to jail.
    Cliff Booth: Anybody accidentally kills anybody in a fight, they go to jail. It's called manslaughter. I think all that lethal weapon horseshit is just an excuse so you dancers never have to get in a real fight.
  • Artistic License – Space: It would not be dark at 7 PM on August 8 in southern California. In fact, the sun wouldn't even have set yet.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: It would be nearly impossible to get high from a cigarette laced with LSD. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is an unstable organic compound that degrades rapidly at high temperatures. Setting it on fire while it's in a cigarette would destroy it pretty quickly. Lacing cigarettes with PCP or embalming fluid is much more common specifically because those molecules are more stable and can handle the heat. Also, not nearly enough time passes for him to have gotten high from the LSD even if it had worked.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Because the shooting location for the "Cielo Drive" houses was actually in Studio City instead of Beverly Glen, Rick's pool overlooks the San Fernando Valley, which you cannot see from the real Cielo Drive.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Either to give Emile Hirsch a little more dialogue or to avoid introducing another character, in the movie it's Jay Sebring who greets Charlie Manson at the Tate house. In Real Life it was a photographer friend of Sharon's, who testified to that meeting at the trial.
    • On the set of The Green Hornet, which was filmed in 1966, Bruce Lee refers to Joe Lewis as "that white kickboxing asshole." First off, the term "Kickboxing" did not replace "full-contact karate" outside of Japan until a few years later.note  Further, Lee had a cordial relationship with Lewis himself at this time.note 
    • The events of the murders at Cielo Drive are also turned into an Alternate History.
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: Movies about the real Bruce Lee tend to choregraph his fights with the style he used for his own films, with a lot of Funny Bruce Lee Noises and flying side kicks, and this is not an exception (although they do show a bit of research by having Lee fight with his right side forward, a very controversial stance he actually favored). In real life, however, Lee fought his sparring matches in completely different fashion, being eminently a fanatic of Boring, but Practical techniques. For one, he would have never thrown goofy flying side kicks during a challenge match, as ending up crashed against a car would have been the least of his worries in that case.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...:
    • Rick is shown practicing with a flamethrower for a role, and after recoiling, asks if it has to be so hot. The response is that it was a flamethrower.
    • Cliff asks George Spahn, now blind, if his girlfriend, Squeaky Fromme, is the redhead. Spahn angrily replies he's blind and has no idea what her hair colour is.
  • Aspect Ratio Switch: The movie opens in 4:3 format (standard for television for the era) but changes to 2.39:1 (the modern widescreen standard) after the introduction.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The deaths of Tex, Sadie, and Patricia are brutally violent, but as they come at the hands of people they were actively attempting to murder (and in Real Life, they successfully murdered a pregnant woman), they are well deserved.
    • Steve Grogan, the Manson Family member who sabotages Rick's car and is rewarded with a beating from Cliff, also qualifies.
    • Cliff's nagging wife may be another example, although we can't be sure. If he really did kill her, it qualifies as Disproportionate Retribution. He doesn't show much of an asshole side himself, unless he really did kill her... which he did, as the novelization confirms, although at least he felt sorry about it.
  • Audible Gleam: One can be heard when Rick winks during his Red Apple commercial in the end credits.
  • Author Appeal:
    • As is typical for a Tarantino film, there are a couple of lingering shots of women's bare feet, mainly Sharon Tate in the movie theater, Pussycat's on the windshield of Rick's car, Squeaky's while she's sitting in a recliner, and a surprising amount of men's bare feet. Justified in a few cases, as it's set in California in 1969, and many of the women are hippies who don't wear shoes.
    • Near the start of the film, Schwarz gives a detailed description of all of the different film technologies he used to watch various films (such as 35mm, 16mm, and kinescope) and the scene is interspersed with various Technology Porn shots of film reels and projectors. Tarantino is a major proponent of keeping traditional filmmaking techniques alive, and has even threatened to retire if the time comes when he can no longer shoot and exhibit his movies on film.
  • Badass Decay: Discussed in-universe; Marvin Schwarz taps into Rick's internal fear of no longer being worthy of leading roles, suggesting he relocate to Europe to be the leading man in a bunch of foreign films. Rick eventually agrees, and it is implied he bounces back after this.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • From initial appearances, it seems like Rick and Cliff's friendship is heavily one-sided, with Rick taking advantage of Cliff's generosity while failing to get Cliff work on a show he landed a part in with a seemingly weak excuse that the stunt co-ordinator has a feud with Cliff over a past incident while filming The Green Hornet. One of Cliff's later flashbacks then reveals that Rick has in fact been standing up for Cliff and trying to find him work in spite of his own fading career, and that the aforementioned feud was over Cliff getting in a fight with Bruce Lee on set and damaging the car of one of the crew members. The rest of the film makes it clear that for all Rick's faults, he does genuinely care for Cliff and sticks his neck out for him when it counts.
    • Immediately after Sadie grabs the revolver and starts firing wildly around the room, Cliff faceplants, suggesting that he's been shot and is possibly dead. Afterwards, he's fully conscious and in no immediate medical emergency, suggesting that he simply collapsed as a belated reaction to the previous, non-critical stab wound.
    • When Sadie crashes to the backyard, Rick drops his radio into the pool, and there's a specific underwater shot of the radio sinking to the bottom. You'd think one of them would get shocked by electricity meeting water — only it turns out a battery-powered radio would contain nowhere near enough voltage to seriously shock someone. Instead, Rick swims out of the pool safely and torches Sadie with a flamethrower while she's deliriously flailing in the pool and erratically shooting the gun into the air.
  • Bait-and-Switch Boss: A rare heroic example. The film builds up towards the Manson Family's fated murder of Sharon Tate. At the climax, they set out to do the deed, but Rick confronts them to complain about their loud car. They promptly decide to switch targets to Rick, and it's ultimately Cliff and Rick who face the final confrontation.
  • Bait the Dog: Used In-Universe for Caleb, the villain Rick Dalton plays in Lancer. Caleb's character is introduced as carefree and cordial until he slowly reveals his villainous nature.
  • Bilingual Dialogue:
    • Most Mexican minor characters are heard speaking their native Spanish but otherwise understand English with no problem, and English speakers also understand them as well. This is Truth in Television, as Hollywood, like many other places in California, is home to large Mexican-American communities.
    • Francesca, Rick's Italian wife, only has a couple of English lines. Otherwise, everyone speaks English to her and she responds in Italian. It's not clear how much even Rick understands what she says.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of it all, Tex, Sadie, and Katie are killed, Sharon and her friends are still alive, and the sojourn in Italy has revitalized Rick himself, if not his career, and his marriage to Francesca seems to be a genuinely happy relationship. But Cliff and Rick have to go their separate ways, and Charles Manson is still at large and likely isn't going to let one failure stop him from killing other innocent people to achieve his "Helter Skelter" plans.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Unusually for a Tarantino movie, and one case where it's completely true to real life. Rick Dalton is a bit dumb but basically a good man struggling to adapt to a flagging career, Cliff is an incredibly easygoing and friendly dude despite being suspected of having murdered his wife, and Sharon Tate is practically a human ray of sunshine. Everyone else is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold at the worst, except for the Manson Family, who are rightfully portrayed as vicious, petty, arrogant, murderous filthy human scum. It even ends with the most overtly Happy Ending in probably any Tarantino movie, where the murderous thugs get killed in horrifically violent ways while all the innocent people survive.
  • Book Ends:
    • Early in the movie, Rick talks about how having the Polanskis as neighbors means he might one day get invited into their house, something which could help him net a big role. At the end of the film, the commotion of Cliff and Rick killing the Manson cultists leads to the Polanskis inviting Rick in for a drink.
    • In the meeting with Mr. Schwarz in the beginning of the film, Rick tells Schwarz that Cliff is his driver, and Schwarz tells Cliff that he must be "a good friend", to which Cliff casually responds "I try." At the end of the movie, where Cliff is taken away by an ambulance, knowing they will part ways in life after he heals up, Rick tells him sincerely "You're a good friend", to which Cliff again responds "I try."
  • Boring Yet Practical: Cliff's fighting style isn't flashy, but it's very efficient and more than good enough to keep pace with Bruce Lee. Considering a throwaway line from Rick identifying him as a war hero, he likely learned to fight in the military.
  • Bounty Hunter: Rick starred as one in Bounty Law, the biggest role of his career.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning, Schwarz jokes that Rick's career will truly end when he takes a guest spot in the Batman TV series. Playing over the movie's end credits is an ad for a radio contest announced by Adam West and Burt Ward in character as Batman and Robin.
  • Bridal Carry: The way Rick carries his Italian wife into their new home.
  • Call-Back: Cliff says, "And away we go!" before setting out to walk his dog and smoke the LSD cigarette, quoting The Honeymooners. He says it again while being wheeled into an ambulance several hours later.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Cliff requests to see his old buddy George Spahn at the ranch, Squeaky Fromme gives him a series of excuses why he can't see him. Her creepy expression, monotone voice, the state of George's house, and the way the other Manson Family members stare at them make Cliff think something's very wrong. It turns out everything she said was 100% true, as George himself confirms when Cliff wakes him up.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Zoë Bell and Kurt Russell play a married pair of set coordinators who interact with Cliff, a stuntman. The two previously starred together in Tarantino's own Death Proof, in which not only both play stuntmen, but Russell attempts to murder Bell, before she assists in beating him to death.
    • Timothy Olyphant is perhaps most famous in recent years for playing the protagonist, a heroic U.S. marshal, in modern Western Justified for multiple seasons. Here, he plays a heroic cowboy in the pilot of a new Western series, Lancer.
    • Abigail Folger is played by Samantha Robinson, whose breakout role was in The Love Witch, an anti-historical pastiche of '60s and '70s B-movies (although these are of the horror/supernatural type rather than the Westerns Rick and Cliff make).
  • Character Narrator: Randy (Kurt Russell) often provides narration for the film, most notably in the Time Skip.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Cliff's LSD cigarette makes a return in the finale.
    • The Family's beat-up 1959 Ford is parked at Spahn Ranch when Cliff visits with Pussycat.
    • Rick's flamethrower can be briefly seen in the shed when Cliff grabs tools to repair his TV antenna.
    • A very subtle one that runs throughout the film is the dog food Cliff uses to feed Brandy the dog. At several points, he opens up a can for her dinner, with the weight of the food being emphasized. The last time he tries to do this, he is interrupted by the arrival of Tex, Patricia and Sadie, and holds onto it through the ensuing conversation. Once they try to attack him, though, he uses the can as a projectile and throws it at Sadie's head, causing her nose to cave in.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Cliff is shown early on to be a good-enough fighter to take on Bruce Lee. Those skills come in handy in the climax.
    • Brandy, Cliff's dog, is obviously extremely well-trained, and Cliff is skilled in handling her. This plays a role when she's revealed to be a trained attack dog who obeys his orders while taking down the Family members.
    • Rick proudly relates how he learned to use a flamethrower for real so he didn't have to rely on a stuntman for a scene in The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey. In the finale, he uses these skills once again.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Cliff is suspected to have killed his wife, but was never convicted. Despite this, everyone in the film business thinks he's guilty, and many refuse to work with him.
  • Cool Car: In a film full (more than 2000!) of vintage 60s autos, Rick's yellow '66 Coupe de Ville stands out. note 
  • Cruel and Unusual Death The Manson Family members each die in a drawn-out, brutal manner. Tex is mauled by a dog, stabbed, and has his face stomped in; Katie has her face repeatedly smashed into various bits of furniture; and Sadie has her nose crushed, is mauled by that same dog, smashes through a door that peppers her with shattered glass, nearly drowns, and is finally set on fire.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • After Steve Grogan stabs a tire on Cliff's car and refuses to replace it with the spare, Cliff proceeds to pound the tar out of him until he acquiesces.
    • During the final fight, Cliff effortlessly dismantles the three Manson Family members. He only takes one hit due to being distracted and still manages to take down his opponent, despite being drunk and tripping on acid.
  • Deconstruction: The final act of the film is dedicated to completely taking apart the mythology of the Manson murderers by having them run up against opponents who have the ability to defend themselves, exposing the 'family' as a bunch of idiots rather than the exotic boogeymen they became in pop culture in the decades following their crimes.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: While the movie doesn't dwell on the prejudicial attitudes of society and the film industry in the 60s, it doesn't go out of its way to hide them either.
    • One of Cliff's first lines is admonishing Rick, "Don't cry in front of the Mexicans!" as they stand in front of several Latino valets.
    • One of the Spaghetti Westerns Rick does is based on a novel titled The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian. The name of the book's movie version, Red Blood, Red Skin, isn't much better.
    • The characters also smoke a lot. It's even implied to be taking a toll on Rick's health, although his alcoholism isn't helping. The lack of acknowledgement involving secondhand smoke is telling too, as Rick smokes on the set of Lancer while his eight-year-old costar Trudi is sitting next to him. Worse, lots of people smoke around a visibly pregnant Sharon Tate. During his Bounty Law days, Rick even filmed a television commercial for Red Apple cigarettes. This last may be particularly jarring for American viewers who don't remember 1969, as Congress banned cigarette advertising on US TV in 1970. You can also clearly see cigarette vending machines in bars and restaurants.
    • The overall opinion of Roman Polański is respectful bordering on adulation, which reflects public opinion of the time period. That said, Steve McQueen refers to him a "Polish prick" and muses that one day he'll "screw it up" (albeit in the context of his relationship with Sharon Tate).
  • Designated Girl Fight: Highlighted in footage from The Wrecking Crew. The film also seems poised to do the same between Francesca and Patricia Krenwinkel, only for the former to flee before getting more than one good hit in.
  • Destination Defenestration: When Cliff manages to send Sadie out into the pool, she shatters the glass door, which alerts the until-then oblivious Rick to her presence.
  • Different World, Different Movies: Rick Dalton has a framed issue of MAD Magazine whose cover parodies Bounty Law hanging in his living room. MAD was in on the crossover and used the cover for their October 2019 issue.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Rick describes the plot of a book in which a fading bronco buster has to come to terms with not being the best anymore, he suddenly realizes how much the story mirrors his own life and starts crying.
  • Do Not Spoil This Ending: Before the film's world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino begged of Cannes crowds to avoid spoilers for later audiences in a statement made on social media:
    "I love cinema, you love cinema. It's the journey of discovering a story for the first time. I'm thrilled to be here in Cannes to share 'Once Upon A Hollywood' with the festival audience. The cast and crew have worked so hard to create something original, and I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent later audiences from experiencing the film in the same way. Thank you."
  • Double Entendre: When Pussycat brings Cliff to the ranch and introduces him to her friends:
    Gypsy: We love Pussy.
    Cliff Booth: Yes, we do.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock:
    • Rick (as DeCoteau) cocks his gun as it rests on the little girl's temple during the negotiation scene for the pilot of Lancer.
    • Played with during the climax. When Tex holds Cliff at gunpoint, Cliff (partly due to being high) just laughs it off. In an effort to be taken seriously, Tex cocks his gun. Cliff immediately signals Brandy, who rips Tex to shreds.
  • Drive-In Theater: Cliff lives in a trailer behind the Van Nuys Drive-In Theater.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The film features quite a lot of driving sequences. Both Cliff and Roman are shown to be quite aggressive drivers, particularly around the winding driveway to their homes. Rick is never seen driving because of his repeated DUI arrests, which resulted in his driver's license being revoked.
  • Dumpster Dive: The first appearance of the Manson cultists is a group of them searching a dumpster for food.
  • End of an Age:
    • After Rick has his Italian cinema experience, acquiring a new wife and returning home, he tells Cliff that he can't really afford to keep him around full time anymore. They decide to have one last hurrah as best friends, go out drinking at their favorite restaurant, and hang out the rest of the night before parting ways. After the climax, though, it's left undetermined how things will go on from there, as Cliff was injured and heads off to the hospital, while Rick is obviously concerned and promises to visit the next day.
    • More broadly, it deals with the end of The '60s, when the Manson murders killed the hope and idealism of the counter-culture once and for all. The fact that the murders never happen in this universe suggests that the entire world might turn out differently.
  • Everybody Smokes: Because it's Hollywood during The '60s. However, it's deconstructed when we see Rick hacking, wheezing, and spitting on the set of Lancer.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The bulk of the movie takes place over about two days, while the climax happens over a single evening several months later.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: After a Major Injury Underreaction to a knife in the side of his thigh, Cliff proceeds to smash in the face of the one responsible against nearly every blunt surface of the house.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Rick wears one during the flamethrower scene in The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Tex's attempt to intimidate Cliff. Cliff asks his name, and Tex says, "I'm the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's business," only for Cliff to say "Nah, it was dumber than that." The entire time, Tex is scared out of his mind.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Rick Dalton considers having to work on Italian spaghetti western movies in Rome to be this.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Rick learned how to use a flamethrower for his role in The 14 Fists of McCluskey. When Cliff goes to fix the antenna, the flamethrower from the movie can be seen hanging in the toolshed. At the end of the movie, Rick grabs the flamethrower from the shed and uses it to torch Sadie after she crashes into his swimming pool.
  • Foil: Cliff and Rick. The two are best friends, co-workers, share many interests, both have long careers in show business, and even look (somewhat) alike. However, they differ significantly in their perspectives on life. Cliff is a (more or less) working-class stiff who's satisfied at his lot in life and for having achieved what he has (recalling his days as a stuntman fondly despite never being a 'star'), while Rick is a famous and wealthy celebrity who nonetheless feels miserable because he believes he's past his prime and is doing work that should be beneath him (like playing The Heavy on TV shows or being asked to star in a Spaghetti Western). This is illustrated pretty well when we first see them go to their respective homes: Rick has a luxurious gated house out in the woods right next to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski and spends his time getting drunk and brooding; Cliff goes home to a small trailer in the middle of nowhere, but is as chill and content as he always is, finding enjoyment in his small TV, his dog, and a homemade bowl of mac n' cheese. Rick's Character Development involves him coming around to Cliff's point of view a bit more; for example, trying his heart out to turn in a quality performance as The Heavy in Lancer, and deciding to socialize with his neighbor instead of locking himself in his room again.
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: After the Manson Family attack in the climax, Francesca rants in Italian to a confused police officer who has no idea what she's saying.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The ending plays on the idea of how history could have deviated if a neighbor of Sharon Tate's caught the Manson Family before they could murder her.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Given Sharon Tate and her friends' notorious murder in real life, and the presence of the Manson Family, it looks like the movie's ending is going to show similar events. Until it's gloriously given one hell of an atomic wedgie, when the film diverges from history and Rick and Cliff end up killing the three Manson clan members who would have killed Tate and her friends. That being said, Inglorious Basterds had a similar twist, and anyone familiar with that movie was probably expecting the same thing to happen here.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Rick shares the contents of a book he's reading with a young co-star, a story of a cowboy who injures his hip and is thus facing becoming "a little more useless each day." When visiting the Spahn Ranch, Cliff finds one of the hippies stabbed the front tire of Rick's car, and he forces him to change it out. In the climax, Cliff is attacked by one of the Manson killers and ends up with a knife in his hip. He brushes it off as probably only getting a limp.
    • Rick appears in a film wielding a flamethrower, and he's noted to have spent time practicing to use it himself rather than rely on Cliff. Later, Cliff finds one of Rick's old prop gunfighter belts in Rick's shed, indicating he's been squirreling away props from his career. In the end, Rick retrieves the flamethrower and uses it proficiently.
    • A lot of emphasis is given to the large cans of dog food Cliff uses to feed Brandy, once in the beginning, and again in the climax, where a full can is used to completely crush the face of one of the Manson killers. The tagline says it's for mean dogs as well, which hints at Brandy's potential.
    • Rick seems to collect memorabilia from the movies he's in: posters, mugs, et cetera. Come the climax, it turns out the thing he kept from The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey was the fully-functional flamethrower.
    • In the intro to Bounty Law, Jake Cahill says he never tries to catch criminals alive if they outnumber him three to on — only amateurs do that, and that is why they don't survive long. In the film's climax, Cliff is confronted by the three Manson killers and survives mainly because he goes straight for the kill, eliminating their numerical superiority before they have time to react.
  • Forgot the Disability: While talking with George, Cliff mentions what the area looks like and refers to a woman as a redhead rather than by name. Being blind, George snaps at him each time.
  • Gilligan Cut: During Rick's breakdown in his trailer, he tells his reflection that he needs to stop drinking or he will blow his own brains out. The scene immediately cuts to Rick taking a swig out of his flask, though to his credit he immediately realizes what he's doing and hurls it out the door.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: When Bruce Lee picks a fight with Cliff, he effectively uses simple deflection techniques against Bruce's fancy kicks.
  • Gorn: Largely devoid of this — uncharacteristically so, for a Quentin Tarantino movie — up until the ending, when Rick and Cliff defend themselves against the Manson Family in an incredibly brutal fashion.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: While Charles Manson is the leader of his clan out in Spahn Ranch and orders his followers to kill, he himself appears for only a single scene with just a couple lines of dialogue.
  • Groin Attack: How Cliff's dog incapacitates Tex.
  • Happily Married: As in real life, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate are happily married and have a kid on the way. Polanski is so comfortable with their relationship that he has no problems with Tate maintaining a platonic friendship with Jay Sebring, whom she left to be with Polanski.
  • He Really Can Act: Invoked Trope; after botching several lines in a row while on the set of the pilot for Lancer, Dalton ends up having a breakdown in his trailer but manages to recompose himself. When he returns to set, he actually manages to deliver a chilling performance in a single take, right down to even adlibbing several lines, that seriously impresses both the director and his young co-star.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Rick is floating in the pool wearing headphones blasting music, so he doesn't react to the home invasion until one of the cultists crashes through the window and lands in the pool next to him.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rick and Cliff behave equal parts like lifelong friends and an old married couple (as the narrator puts it, "more than a brother and a little less than a wife"). Cliff works both as Rick's stuntman and does whatever Rick needs done without complaint, including driving him everywhere (Rick having lost his license due to alcoholism), being his handy-man (like fixing his television antenna), and providing emotional support (when Rick has an emotional breakdown over the idea of his career dying down). It is implied that Cliff's loyalty comes from Rick keeping him employed as a stuntman in spite of the rumors that he killed his wife, such as insisting on having Cliff be his stuntman when filming on The Green Hornet.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Francesca pulls this on Katie. Her "Hey you!" is practically the only thing she says in English in the whole film (well, apart from "How dare you come into my house, motherfucker?!").
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Though Rick's issues and destructive lifestyle are highlighted, he is shown to take his job seriously. When he used a flamethrower for a role in a movie, he did take the time to learn how to operate it safely, and when he lands the role in Lancer, he's seen rehearsing lines for it in his downtime. Part of why he's so upset with himself over flubbing them was that he really was trying even as his addictions were throwing him off. (Most notably, he's embarrassed because, despite him putting in the time and practicing, his flubbing made it look to his co-stars like he hadn't practiced.)
    • Cliff is apparently quite handy, and is the one Rick calls when things break in his house.
    • Bruce Lee's major scene has him being an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, but his other scenes show him to be a patient martial arts teacher to Sharon Tate and even having a friendly spar with one of her house guests.
    • Francesca, Rick's wife, doesn't have a lot of scenes to herself, but she's quite kind to Cliff's dog, and gets herself out of danger with a haymaker during the Manson Family fight.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: During the credits, we see Rick filming an ad for Red Apple cigarettes during his Bounty Law days, during which he praises the company and the flavor of the cigarettes. As soon as the camera stops rolling, he starts bitterly complaining about how horrible the cigarettes taste and how the cardboard cutout of him has a double chin.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • It would be simpler to list which characters aren't real people. While Rick and Cliff are fictional, Sharon Tate, Bruce Lee, Charles Manson, the Manson Family, and several actors all worked or lived in Los Angeles in 1969. Marvin Schwarz is fictional, but a real-life Marvin Schwartz was a Hollywood producer in 1969 (presumably the reason movie Marvin insists on the pronunciation).
    • "Pussycat", the Manson Family girl who lures Cliff to Spahn Ranch, doesn't appear to correspond to any actual Family member. "Flowerchild" is based on Linda Kasabian, who in Real Life did claim that she forgot her knife.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The real Sadie admitted to being sexually aroused by murder and the taste of blood.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Bruce Lee is presented as an arrogant jerk who brags that he could cripple Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) and likes to pick fights. Tarantino based the scene on a passage on Linda Lee's book stating that those who watched Lee fight would bet that he could beat Cassius Clay. While Lee shows admiration for Clay in the film, his boasts about crippling him are original to the film, likely to make him less sympathetic when Cliff beats him up.
  • Homage:
    • Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan): Just before the home invasion goes south, Cliff is held at gunpoint by Tex and they speak briefly, leading to them sharing a good laugh, just as happened when Hans Gruber had John McClane at gunpoint in the climax of Die Hard.
    • The shot of Sadie falling into the pool is a homage to The Last House on the Left, itself also an influential home invasion film.
    • Sadie's death throes in the pool strongly resemble the death of the T-1000.
  • Horror Hippies: The various hippies in the movie are portrayed as shifty, troublesome, and not to be trusted. This is completely justified, since they're all members of the Manson Family.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: The overarching theme of the movie is how larger-than-life pop culture personalities usually have a "second" of sorts who facilitates their great deeds, if they aren't doing most of the work themselves. The Green Hornet and Charles Manson are the major touchpoints (Kato being Britt Reid's muscle and Manson's acolytes performing the actual murders rather than Charles himself) with the likes of Cliff (who does Rick's stunts and housework), Jay Sebring (who minds the pregnant Sharon Tate while her actual husband, Roman Polanski, is off directing), and the fictional Johnny Madrid (the black sheep of the Lancer family who is the only one physically able to protect them from outlaws) exemplifying this dynamic. Once Rick "graduates" from being so heavily reliant on Cliff after killing Sadie and being (unwillingly) separated from him, a sound clip from the Batman live-action television series is played over the credits, implying that he has become a protagonist who doesn't necessarily need a sidekick to function.
  • Idiot Ball: Bruce Lee, a world-class martial artist, obliges Cliff's challenge to throw the exact same jump kick as he did in their previous round of sparring. You'd expect someone with any kind of martial arts knowledge to not do exactly what his opponent is expecting and prepared for (even if his opinion of Cliff was as low as it apparently was), but Lee does, allowing him to fulfill his Worf responsibilities for Cliff.
  • I Let You Win: Cliff stands perfectly still like a target against Lee's fancy side kick and then drops in a stilted way with the strike, all compared to the much natural way he fights all the rest of the challenge. It's somewhat implied he let Lee take the first round on order to make him drop his guard for the next, or maybe to let the star save face to an extent before kicking his ass.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Rick imagines himself in the lead role of The Great Escape when asked about how he nearly got cast, resulting in an altered scene from the film with Leonardo DiCaprio green-screened in for Steve McQueen.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When Sharon Tate gets her picture taken at a movie theater showing her latest film, the usher asks her to stand next the poster of the film so people will know who she is. The usher doesn't seem to register how that might hurt the feelings of a rather famous actress, but Sharon herself takes it in stride.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Sadie's justification for changing the Family's plan and killing Rick is that since he starred in an industry glorifying violence, he deserves to be violently murdered as a message to Hollywood. Even better, she says she came to this conclusion after multiple LSD trips — and this is coming from a supposed "free love" cult about living in harmony. This is based on actual quotes from the Manson Family.
    Sadie: If you grew up watching television, you grew up watching murder... We should be killing the people that taught us to kill!
  • In Spite of a Nail: Although Sharon Tate's murder is prevented, Charles Manson remains at large, although we don't know if that would last longer than it did in reality.
  • Internal Homage: The flamethrower scene from Rick's World War II film The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey resembles a remix of the ending of Inglourious Basterds: an American commando on a balcony shooting down at a crowd of burning Nazis. It's also meta-foreshadowing to a degree: like Inglourious Basterds, this movie ends with Tarantino rewriting history to gruesomely kill off the bad guys.
  • It Only Works Once: During their fight, Bruce Lee knocks down Cliff with a kick to the chest. Cliff invites him to try again, and promptly slams him into a nearby car. Subverted because even the first time it is implied Cliff voluntarily took the kick to make Lee drop his guard.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Rick is dismissive of Martin's offer to star in Spaghetti Westerns because he thinks it'll do his fading career more harm than good. This is Truth in Television for the era, when most of Hollywood dismissed the genre as cheap foreign knockoffs of "true" American Westerns.
  • Jailbait Taboo: Pussycat propositions Cliff, but he turns her down since he suspects she's underage.
  • The Joy of X: It follows the same title format as Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, one of the Spaghetti Westerns that Rick disparages.
  • Jump Cut: There are a few jump cuts during the scene where Rick talks with Jim Stacy on the set of the Western pilot — possibly to symbolize Rick's discontent with an uncomfortable conversation. Then there are more jump cuts shortly after, when Rick is screaming at himself in his trailer after blowing several lines during the shoot.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: The Germans in the Film Within a Film The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey speak English with a thick German accent.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The Boeing 747, which was featured prominently in several scenes, was not inaugurated into service until January of 1970, several months after the end of the movie.
  • Karma Houdini: With Sharon still alive and her fated killers all disposed of, Charles Manson is seemingly never discovered.
  • Kill It with Fire: At the end of the film, Rick uses his flamethrower to burn Sadie alive after she bursts out of his own home firing a pistol wildly.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Francesca, after her "Hey, You!" Haymaker, doesn't attack her foes further. When she's put in danger again, she screams and flees the scene, getting into no further action.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Sadie proposes attacking the Dalton residence, and is historically suspected to have murdered Sharon Tate personally. In the ensuing fight, she has the slowest and most painful death.
    • The movie can be read as applying this to all three of the Tate killers. The real-life killings were notorious for their brutality and viciousness towards the victims (one of whom was a pregnant woman). In this movie, all three suffer incredibly painful and gruesome deaths at the hands of Cliff and Rick.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When the film gets to the evening of August 8th, 1969, a man featured on TV says, "And now, the moment you've all been waiting for!"
  • Leave No Witnesses: After being confronted by Rick, the Manson cultists decide he and everyone in his house needs to die to keep their identity secret.
  • Leg Focus: Pussycat wears short shorts with a halter top, with her body language and camera framing emphasizing her legs (and feet too, because it's a Tarantino film).
  • Lemony Narrator: Kurt Russell's character Randy becomes one at a few points in the film, once to interject a Arrested Development-style correction of a character's dialogue and then to fill in the Time Skip.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Cliff's combat skill is hinted at throughout the film, but mostly in comedic scenes; we don't truly see the full extent of his abilities until the end, when the Manson Family members invade Rick's house. Even with him drunk and high on LSD, and with the Manson Family members armed with knives and a gun, it's not an even remotely fair fight. His dog Brandy also shows her ability in a fight, and Rick himself makes good use of the flamethrower, despite also being drunk.
  • Lighter and Softer: The movie is largely devoid of Tarantino's trademark violence and bad behavior, and is generally more of an amiable, retro "hangout movie". The main characters are certainly flawed, but nothing compared to the violent criminals who tend to populate Tarantino's movies. The movie also has a surprisingly gentle side, such as Trudi's praise of Rick's acting moving him to tears, and the movie upholding Sharon Tate as a beacon of sunny 60s Hollywood dreams. While the climax is brutally violent, only villainous characters die.
  • Logo Joke: As one would suspect, given the period in which this film was shot, the film opens with the 1935-1975 Columbia Pictures logo.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Cliff is stabbed in the side, potentially in a kidney, but seems more bemused by the situation. He doesn't collapse from the injury until after he's made his attacker pay for it. Justified, as he's drunk and high at the time, and likely was running on adrenaline.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Rick is playing a lot of bad guy roles in 1969 (to the point that he fears being typecast), but he's a decent guy outside of that. This is especially evident during his time on Lancer: he has to shove a child actor to the floor during a scene, but once the cameras stop rolling, the first thing he does is make sure she isn't hurt. He does hate hippies, though.
  • Method Acting: In-Universe with Trudi Fraser, Rick's precocious co-star. She prefers to be addressed by her character's name when she's on set, and won't eat lunch before shooting a scene because being full might make her sluggish — concerns that Rick, with his more old-school style, wouldn't think of.
  • Monochrome to Color: The teaser trailer and movie start with interview footage of Rick and Cliff on the set of their TV show Bounty Law. The footage is in black and white, while what follows is in color. The movie reverts to black and white for the credits sequence, a clip of Rick shooting a Bounty Law tie-in commercial for Red Apple cigarettes.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-Universe, this is Rick's only reason for agreeing to do films in Italy.
  • Monster Fangirl: Charles Manson's fanatical followers, many of whom are female and believe they are in love with him, and all of whom are willing to kill for him. Manson sends four of them — "Tex", "Sadie", "Katie", and "Flowerchild" — to murder everyone in Tate's house, but the plan goes Off the Rails when Dalton hears their noisy muffler and brusquely orders them off his street.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • It's a Tarantino character-study comedy, but the jokes dry up very quickly any time a member of the Manson Family comes on screen. Even humorous moments (like Tex, Sadie, Katie, and Linda arguing in the car) pass by in a flash when something nasty inevitably comes to the foreground.
    • Also related to the Manson Family, the movie overall is pretty low-stakes, with little violence occurring off the set of the movies. Though the audience will probably get nervous towards the end when we reach the night that Sharon Tate was murdered, it is still shocking when Cliff, Brandy, and Rick brutally kill Tate's would-be murderers.
  • Moral Myopia: The hippie commune boo and mock Cliff as he leaves because he had suspected them of doing something nefarious to the person whose land they're squatting on and wanted to confirm his suspicions without taking their word for it, complete with slashing one of his tires out of spite. When Cliff reacts by punching the guy who did it after he refuses to fix the tire (followed by making him fix it), the hippies act as though he is attacking him unprovoked. Their attitude is that of a guilty party for a reason, as they are the Manson Family.
  • MST: In-Universe. A downplayed, meta example where Rick and Cliff sit in and watch Rick's guest appearance on The F.B.I., providing running commentary — not to mock it, just reacting out loud — over a long, held shot of the front of Rick's TV set and nothing else, drawing attention to the artificiality of it (the fictional Rick being inserted into a real TV show, spending several minutes of a 2019 theatrical movie watching an episode of a series from The '60s).
  • Mugging the Monster: Rick confronts a bunch of hippies for coming up to a private residence to smoke weed in their extremely loud and annoying car, unaware that this bunch of hippies is the Manson Family, who are out to kill Sharon Tate. He accidentally pulls their aggro in the process, making them switch their target from Tate to him.
  • My Greatest Failure: Prior to the start of the film, Rick Dalton abandoned his lucrative television career in hopes of becoming an action star in movies. After his movie career quickly flamed out, Rick found the television acting scene had also left him behind. At best, he can only get cast as single-episode villains in other people's shows.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the mid-credits scene, Rick is doing an ad for Red Apple Cigarettes, a product featured in many other Tarantino and Tarantino-adjacent films, including Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill Volume 1, Planet Terror, and The Hateful Eight.
    • Tarantino's trademark "taking a break from the action to give some exposition with narration" scene that started in Inglourious Basterds continues here, in the form of describing what happens up to the Manson Family assault.
    • Tex's line, "Okay, pig killers, let's kill some piggies" is reminiscent of something Seth Gecko says in From Dusk Till Dawn.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: An already heavily-injured Tex pulls a knife on Cliff. It goes about as well as you would expect.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Rick Dalton is basically an Expy of real-life Steve McQueen, who is a character in this movie as well. Dalton and McQueen were both stars of TV Western series about bounty hunters, Rick in the fictional Bounty Law and McQueen in the Real Life Wanted Dead or Alive. Both Rick and McQueen were up for the same part in The Great Escape. McQueen got it and became a huge star, while Rick is the What Could Have Been version of McQueen who's down to TV guest spots while trying to revive his career in spaghetti westerns.
    • Booth, for his part, resembles Gene LeBell, a stuntman and martial artist that had a scuffle where he got the upper hand over Bruce Lee and was also involved in an unclear murder. He even beats Lee specifically with a judo throw, just like the real deal did. However, the death of Cliff Booth's wife Billie and the ambiguity surrounding it are also a reference to Natalie Wood, as is Billie's sister being named Natalie.
    • Trudi Fraser is clearly based on Jodie Foster's child actress days.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The Manson trio suffer this at the end, Katie especially.
  • Not His Sled: The film seems to build up to the infamous Tate murders, only for Alternate History to take effect. The would-be murderers instead start at Rick's house and meet their grisly demises at the hands of him, Cliff, and Brandy. Thus, Sharon and her friends all live and invite Rick into the house for a drink after the ordeal is over.
  • Notice This: When Cliff enters the garage at Rick's house to get the tools to repair the TV antenna, the camera pans very slightly downward to show the flamethrower Rick has stashed there (presumably as a souvenir from The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey). During the climax of the film, Rick goes to retrieve it in a panic when Sadie goes crashing into the pool, and uses it to incinerate her.
  • Novelisation: Tarantino published a novelisation of this film in 2021, which he described as "a complete rethinking of the entire story". The book adds details to various sequences and characters, including multiple chapters dedicated to Cliff's backstory. The finale occurs midway through the story and adds an epilogue where Rick finds fame as a regular on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. It also focuses on Charles Manson's pursuit of a music career and the "inner worlds" of Sharon Tate and Trudi Frazer.
    • There is a chapter dedicated to the Manson Family's "creepy crawls". In it, Manson instructs "Pussycat" to break into a wealthy, elderly couple's house while they are sleeping. Manson encouraged going into wealthy peoples' homes, which the Manson girls would enter and steal valuables. He taught them to wear dark clothing and "crawl" through the house. The term "creepy crawl" was invented by the Manson girls.
    • The book explains the inner thoughts of the controversial Bruce Lee-Cliff Booth fight, saying that Booth tricks Lee into the fight and Booth is fighting his own instinct to murder Lee more than Lee himself. Booth is a "ringer", a stuntman brought in and paid on the side to hurt actors who "tag" (hit for real) stuntmen. Lee does this, and Booth believes Lee's kung fu is all for show and screen, and that judo is a superior martial art. "Pussycat" refers to Booth as "Mr. Blond".
    • The novel includes several chapters detailing Lancer's backstory as a "mini-novelization-within-a-novelization," including an entire chapter on the career of the series' lead, James Stacy. The novel contains a chapter detailing how Booth came to own his pit bull, Brandy. Another chapter focuses on Booth living in France after escaping from a Filipino jungle as a POW. Tarantino based the Brandy and POW chapters on true stories.
    • Critique is given on a large amount of mid-century films and filmmakers through the minds of Tate, Dalton, and Booth. The latter is a movie buff, who believes Michelangelo Antonioni is a fraud and has given up on the films of Federico Fellini. However, he is a fan of Akira Kurosawa, Alan Ladd, and erotic films, some of which he views at the (now Tarantino-owned) New Beverly Cinema. When he goes to see I Am Curious (Yellow), "Cliff wanted to lick the screen". The character's appreciation of pop music is expressed in the novel as well. While Roman Polański hates Bubblegum music, Tate silently likes it. She notably enjoys Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "Chewy Chewy," Bobby Sherman and his song "Julie, Do Ya Love Me," and The Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron". "She liked The Monkees more than The Beatles". Booth is an avid Tom Jones fan, and especially of the song, "Delilah," because as Tarantino states, "Cliff is partial to songs about guys who kill their women".
    • A deleted scene is re-inserted, of a phone call between Rick and Trudi on the evening after their day shooting Lancer together. They do a line reading and reminisce about the day, and Trudi reminds Dalton how lucky they are to do what they do, making him genuinely realize "for the first time in ten fortunate he is and was".
    • Rick beats out Joe Don Baker for his role in Lancer. Baker portrayed the lead villain and leader of the land pirates in the real-life pilot of Lancer.
    • Several people, real and fictional appear. A whole chapter is dedicated to actor Aldo Ray, whose procurement of a bottle of gin from Booth leads to him being fired from one of the Spaghetti Westerns Dalton is starring in. Tarantino's step-father Curtis Zastoupil appears as a character in the novel and gets Rick Dalton's autograph for a six-year-old Tarantino. Other people who appear include Dennis Wilson, Terry Melcher (the son of Doris Day and record producer for Columbia Records), Candice Bergen, Gregg Jakobson (a songwriter who became close to the Manson Family), Andrew Duggan (the actor who portrays Murdoch Lancer, whose character seeks out his two estranged sons from different mothers, to help save his ranch from the land pirates), and Jim Brown, who would have been played by Jamie Foxx in a scene where Cliff had a fistfight with him on the set of 100 Rifles.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Linda "forgets" her knife and starts walking back despite the car being locked, forcing Tex to give her the keys, not suspecting she might be planning to drive off, as she ends up doing.
  • Odd Friendship: Rick develops a bit of one with his eight-year-old co-star Trudi Fraser, to the point where he's genuinely concerned about her well-being the moment the cameras stop rolling in a scene where he has to throw her onto the ground. She's one of the few characters he genuinely bonds with over the course of the film.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Linda (aka Flower Child) has a small panic when the plan to kill the inhabitants of one house gets disrupted and then changed.
    • Rick gets one when Cliff sends Sadie flying into a pool while he's listening to his music.
  • Once Upon a Time: The Stock Phrase is used in the film's title. Its close connection to fairy tales turns out to be thematically relevant. It also doubles as a reference to the films Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone, whose films are alluded to in here.
  • The Oner: It's possible to miss because of how low-key it is, but the first part of Cliff's confrontation with Bruce Lee, up until Bruce's second kick, is presented as a single four-minute take.
  • One-Steve Limit: Literally averted, due to Steve McQueen and Steve "Clem" Grogan both appearing in the film, although Grogan is only ever called Clem.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most of the historical members of the Manson Family are only ever called by their nicknames (Charles "Charlie" Manson being the one exception), and are only listed as such in the credits. Susan Atkins is "Sadie," Linda Kasabian is "Flower Child," Patricia Krenwinkel is "Katie," Charles Watson is "Tex," Catherine Share is "Gypsy," Lynette Fromme is "Squeaky," and Steve Grogan is "Clem."
  • Playboy Bunny: Plenty of them, as Sharon and Roman go to a party at the Playboy Mansion.
  • Plot Parallel: Cliff's visit to the Spahn Ranch, on the same day Rick is shooting the pilot for a Western, contains a number of nods to Western films, such as dramatic between-the-legs camera angles and curious locals peering at the stranger from behind doorways when he arrives. Since the Spahn Ranch was used as a filming location for Westerns, this is only appropriate.
  • Pop the Tires: Manson cultist Steve Grogan sticks a knife into one of the tires of Rick's car while Cliff is using it. Cliff proceeds to punch Steve's face in until he changes the tire.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Rick Dalton's character in The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey gives a fittingly over-the-top one before burning some Nazis alive.
  • Product Placement: In-Universe. Rick smoked Red Apple tobacco in Bounty Law episodes as part of an advertising deal, and filmed at least one TV spot for them. (He doesn't think very highly of their cigarettes, as The Stinger shows.)
  • Punched Across the Room: Cliff's first punch knocks Clem not only off his feet, but clean out of the frame (admittedly, while being shot from a very low angle and from between Cliff's legs).
  • Rasputinian Death: Susan "Sadie" Atkins gets the biggest one in the movie (and maybe all of Tarantino's movies): in the span of just a few minutes, she gets her nose crushed inward by a full can of dog food, then gets mauled by Brandy, then gets glass and debris embedded in her face after running straight through Rick's patio door, and finally gets burned to death by Rick and his flamethrower. Since Sadie is generally thought to have been the Manson cultist who murdered Sharon Tate in Real Life (or alternately, held Sharon down while Tex Watson stabbed her), giving her this manner of death was likely intentional.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: It's never commented on, but Rick has a mild stutter and thicker Midwest accent in his personal life. He hides it whenever he is on set, but it's quite notable seeing him go from an interview on the set of Bounty Law to meeting with Marvin in a restaurant and later being praised for improvising a line with three alliterative words.
  • Recognition Failure: A movie theater cashier doesn't recognize Sharon Tate, who is acting in one of the movies her theater is playing.
  • Red Herring:
    • When Cliff realizes that George Spahn's ranch has been taken over by a hippie commune, he asks where George is, and everyone immediately becomes evasive and tense. They insist that Cliff can't see George because he's "napping." Their behavior (and the fact that we know this is the Manson Family) makes the whole scene incredibly suspicious. Cliff insists on entering the house, makes his way down a darkened hallway, and enters George's room to find that everything is fine. George actually is napping. He's relatively healthy and has no complaints about anything that's happening. Though Cliff still seems uncomfortable, seeing that George doesn't seem to be being abused, he leaves. For anyone aware of history, the real George wasn't quite as comfortable as the scene would lead one to believe, as his passive attitude to the Manson Family taking over his property was due in large part to Charles keeping him constantly doped up, so he was never exactly in his right mind to give proper consent.
    • The character's first few scenes hint that Pussycat is going to play a large role in the movie, possibly as Cliff's Love Interest. Cliff politely refuses Pussycat's sexual advances because she can't prove she isn't underage, and Pussycat eventually turns against Cliff after his demands to see George Spahn embarrass her in front of the rest of the Manson Family. She is never seen again after the confrontation at Spahn Ranch.
    • The LSD-laced cigarette is introduced as something Cliff decides to save for later. Ultimately, he decides to partake in it while taking his dog for a walk during his bender with Rick. It ultimately does nothing for the plot other than provide for some humorous behavior on Cliff's part. He's not too high or late to defend Rick's house from Manson's disciples as a result.
    • The film implies that Sharon Tate is going to have a larger role in the last act, via showing a flashback of her training for The Wrecking Crew with Bruce Lee (actually Truth in Television). The script then flips this on its head when the ending shows the Manson murderers being initially thwarted by Rick when they drive up Cielo Drive, and once they retreat, they elect to attack his home instead under the belief that they need to attack the actor who "inspired us to kill". As a result, Tate (and, by extension, the rest of the people in the Polanski home) are spared and aren't seen again until the murderers have been taken care of by Cliff and Rick.
    • Near the end, there's a lingering shot of Rick's radio falling into the swimming pool, but nobody gets electrocuted, since it's battery-powered.
  • Reference Overdosed: A Tarantino trademark. Some of the Shout Outs pass by in split-second shots, like a MAD magazine cover featuring a caricature of Rick.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Can of dog food beats knife.
  • Running Gag:
    • Rick is constantly recognized for his role on Bounty Law.
      Tex: That was Jake Cahill that just yelled at me?
    • In a cinematic-universe-spanning example, Red Apple cigarettes make yet another appearance in a Tarantino movie.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Flowerchild (Linda Kasabian) ditches her three cohorts before they attempt to carry out their plan. She was probably going to run off anyway, but then Tex throws her the keys, so she takes their car too.
    • Brandy immediately runs for safety when the gun gets fired.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: The novelization makes several things clear that are left ambiguous in the film (such as whether Cliff killed his wife).
  • Scissors Cuts Rock: More like fire burns above water.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: While ironing out the finer details of their planned murders, the Manson cultists suddenly devolve into discussing Rick Dalton's role as a television and movie star upon realizing his identity, as well as how they used to watch his show as kids. Later on, when they have already left the car to perpetrate the murder of everyone in Rick's household, the seriousness of the moment is undercut again by a discussion about one of them having forgotten her knife in the car.
  • Shirtless Scene: While repairing Rick's busted TV antenna, Cliff doffs his shirt, showing that despite his lifestyle, he's kept himself in peak condition.note 
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The comedic elements vanish whenever the Manson Family becomes the focus of the film, in favor of a fitting undercurrent of horror.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • At the beginning of the film, Rick is interviewed about Bounty Law, a Western TV show on which he and Cliff worked. Segments from a few actual episodes are shown at various points.
    • The Double Feature Marvin Schwarz made for himself included a film in which Rick plays a hammy Hollywood Action Hero who kills Nazis by the truckloads during World War II.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Yes, Bruce Lee really did personally train Sharon Tate for her fight scenes in The Wrecking Crew. That detail is 100% authentic.
    • While praising the boxer Joe Louis, Bruce Lee clarifies that he's not talking about "that white kickboxer asshole." Joe Lewis and Lee knew and trained with each other before having a falling out, which prompted Lee to cast Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon instead of Lewis. The timeline in the movie is off, as this only happened four years after Lee was working in The Green Hornet, but it is still a quite notable reference.
    • Bruce Lee really did get into sparring matches on his various film sets, sometimes delaying the shoot several weeks as he takes on challengers. The outcome of these fights and how cordial it would be would vary depending on the person telling the story. Green Hornet in particular appears to be inspired by Lee's relationship with stuntman Gene LeBell.
    • When Cliff recognizes the Manson Family members from his visit to the Spahn Ranch, he can't remember Tex Watson's name. Tex responds by saying, "I'm the devil, and I came to do the devil's business." The real-life Tex Watson said this exact phrase to the victims at Sharon Tate's house before they were murdered.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Meta example: in Rick's film The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey, the protagonist enjoys killing Nazis with a flamethrower a little too much.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Vanilla Fudge's uplifting "You Keep Me Hangin' On" plays during Cliff's violent fight with the Manson gang.
  • Spaghetti Western: Rick and Cliff end up making a few of these during the Time Skip.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Marvin Schwarz insists that his last name be pronounced "Shwarzz", without the T.
  • Split Screen: Rick and Cliff are shown in split-screen during the narration on their flight back to America.
  • Stock Footage: Unlike the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio digitally replaces Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, the same is not done to Sharon Tate — out of respect to the real person — in the scenes involving The Wrecking Crew. The footage is not retouched and Margot-Robbie-as-Sharon is watching the real actress on-screen.
  • Stock Scream: Just seconds into the movie, the Wilhelm Scream is heard in a clip from Rick's show Bounty Law, when he shoots a bad guy off of a roof.
  • Stunt Casting: Invoked Trope; Marvin drops a bit of Brutal Honesty on Rick during his meeting with him, telling him that Rick is now at the point of his career where networks are only willing to stunt-cast him as single-episode villains to prop up their rising stars.
  • Stutter Stop: Rick has a pretty bad nervous stammer that disappears completely whenever he's concentrating on delivering lines. We first see it go away while he's rehearsing alone at his house, but it absolutely vanishes while he's shooting the Lancer pilot — except after he forgets a line.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • After getting knocked down with a jump-kick, Cliff challenges Bruce Lee to "try it again." Bruce obliges by throwing the exact same strike. Now that Cliff is ready and expecting it, he counters it easily.
    • Cliff is unimpressed with Bruce Lee's boasting on the set of The Green Hornet, so they end up in a sparring match, where Cliff holds his own and knocks down the martial arts legend. Then he's immediately fired for fighting on set, severely denting the door of the car belonging to the stunt coordinator's wife, and endangering one of the primary actors.
    • The Manson killers are in fact hippies with no combat skill who owe their real-life infamy to attacking defenseless victims. They stand no chance against Cliff who was trained to kill by the military, has his own improvised weapons and owns an attack dog. Once the dog literally disarms Tex's gun, they're doomed.
  • Take That!: Cliff's refusal of road head on the suspicion the one offering it is an underage girl could be seen as a subtle jab at Roman Polanski (who's been in exile hiding from a statutory rape charge in the US for over 40 years). Not to mention his being referred to as looking like a twelve-year-old boy.
  • Tears of Joy: After filming his final scene on Lancer, both the director and his young co-star Trudi are effusive in their praise of his acting, causing Rick to cry tears of relief and joy that he's Still Got It.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: It happens twice in quick succession during the climax of the film:
    • Patricia manages to stab Cliff in the side of his thigh. He responds by grabbing her by her hair and smashing her face into every single surface he can think of, including a phone receiver, one of Rick's framed posters, and a table. He only stops when he sees that he's reduced her to a pulp.
    • Sadie is beaned in the face with a dog food can thrown by Cliff, smashing her nose in. He follows it up by commanding Brandy to start mauling her, which eventually leads to her standing up in a panic wildly and running through a plate-glass window, lacerating her face with shards of glass before she falls into the pool. Upon seeing this (and her firing her gun into the air wildly), Rick gets out of the pool, goes to his garage, pulls out the flamethrower he still had from The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey, and uses it to incinerate her.
  • Third Time's The Charm: Discussed. Cliff picks Pussycat up the third time he sees her hitchhiking, and she quotes the trope.
  • This Is Going to Be Huge: Rick is enthusiastic about having Roman Polanski as a neighbor, predicting that he could be one social call away from making an impression on the director and landing a juicy role. Everyone at all familiar with the Manson Family will know that the Polanski home will soon be hit by a tragedy that will destroy that opportunity. But it's subverted in the end, when Tate and company survive the night, and Rick gets invited over to the house, suggesting that he might just land a gig in a Polanski movie in the future.
  • Throw It In: In-Universe example. A climactic scene of tension in the Lancer pilot features several inspired ad-libs by Rick, and the moment where he throws the little girl on the ground was apparently his idea too. They scrounged up some knee and elbow pads for Trudi in a hurry.
  • Time Skip: The last third of the film takes place on August 8, 1969 — six months after the events of the first half. In between, Rick and Cliff have relocated to Italy to make a few Spaghetti Westerns (and one action movie), Rick has made some decent money and fallen in love with a costar, and the three of them (Cliff, Rick, and Rick's new Italian wife Francesca) are returning to L.A. when we pick the story up again.
  • Touché: Cliff is clearly disappointed at being turned down for a job because of something related to his previous gig on The Green Hornet. In a Flashback, we see that Rick had begged the stunt coordinator (who already hated Cliff) to give him a chance. The first day on set, Cliff picked a fight with Bruce Lee, and threw him into a car that belonged to the stunt coordinator's wife, severely denting it and endangering one of the show's main stars. Reflecting on this, Cliff simply mutters "fair enough".
  • Tranquil Fury: Cliff's reaction to being stabbed by Katie. After he notices what's happened, he proceeds to smash her face in a methodical fashion into every single surface he can find.
  • Trashy Trailer Home: This is used to contrast Cliff and Rick's living situations. Famous actor Rick lives in a big Hollywood mansion. His driver Cliff lives in a rusty trailer located behind a drive-in theater.
  • Underestimating Badassery: This happens repeatedly to Cliff.
    • When Cliff calls out Bruce Lee for being a braggart, Lee has no idea who he is, but challenges him to a sparring contest. Lee doesn't take Cliff very seriously in the first two passes, but by the third, he seems to understand that Cliff is not someone to casually dismiss.
    • Clem bullies Cliff by flattening his tire, apparently believing that the vastly outnumbered Cliff will have no recourse but to limp away home. It turns out Cliff has other ideas.
    • The Manson Family have no idea who Cliff is, but clearly see him as a simple victim to toy with. Big mistake.
  • The Unfought:
    • Charles Manson appears for exactly one scene and is never seen again, despite sending his cultists to murder people. It's possible he may become a Karma Houdini as well.
    • At Spahn Ranch, Tex arrives just in time to see Cliff drive away. Round two goes much worse for him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The flashback to the incident where Cliff fought Bruce Lee and got fired from the set of The Green Hornet is the only one in the film framed as a character's recollection In-Universe. It also happens to include several clues to the fact that Cliff's memories of the event are skewed, most prominent among them the fact that if Cliff had really slammed Bruce against Janet's car hard enough to do the kind of damage to the car seen onscreen, it would've broken Lee's back. When we see Lee training or rehearsing scenes with other actors later, he comes off as far friendlier than Cliff's recollection paints him.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: If you go into the movie blind and know functionally nothing about the Manson murders, the significance of the climax will make no sense because no context is given to it, coming across as an Outside-Context Problem. This includes the unusual focus on Sharon Tate and Cliff's little excursion at Spahn Ranch. Especially since the movie is an Alternate History where Sharon Tate survives because Cliff and Rick end up distracting and curb stomping the would-be killers.
  • Watch the Paint Job: Cliff manages to really piss off Randy's wife when he throws Bruce Lee into the side of her car, heavily denting it.
  • Wham Line:
    • After trying to gently say he won't hire Cliff, the TV director dishes the Brutal Honesty that Cliff gives bad vibes because, "He killed his fucking wife."
    • More "Wham Noise". Cliff clicking to sic his pitbull on the Mansonites is immediately followed by a sharp turn into alternate history and the Manson murders ending completely differently from how they began.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe Rick was considered for the lead role in The Great Escape which propelled Steve McQueen to full star status. While he plays it off as unimportant, Rick is imagining himself in the movie.
  • What If?: The plot of the film, where Tarantino gives us another revision of real life events. What if the victims of the Manson Family had lived and the Mansonites were killed instead?
  • The Worf Effect:
    • Discussed Trope. Schwarz tells Rick that Hollywood has a habit of casting older actors in villain roles so the younger and more bankable stars can beat them in a fight and impress the audience, at the expense of the former's image.
    • In order to show how badass Cliff is, we see him holding his own against Bruce Lee.
  • Worthy Opponent: After Cliff deflects Bruce's second attack, Bruce obviously starts taking the fight more seriously. When it's interrupted, he quickly comes to Cliff's defense, stating that it was a sparring session. This is tempered somewhat by Bruce clearly trying to defend his ego, saying that Cliff had barely touched him (despite Cliff slamming him into a car).
  • Would Hurt a Child: In-Universe. Rick plays a villain in the Pilot Episode of Lancer who has no compunctions about holding a little girl hostage at gunpoint and shoving her to the floor. Subverted with Rick himself, who checks to see if his young costar is okay as soon as the director yells cut.

"Hey! You're Rick fuckin' Dalton. Don't you forget it."


Video Example(s):


Rick Burns Susan Atkins Alive

Admit it, you wanted to do it the Manson acolytes too.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / KillItWithFire

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