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Tuesday May 30th 2023

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood | 2019

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Parking Lot, Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Rick meets with agent Marvin Schwarz: Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

Quite a challenge not to give too much away, but here goes…

‘The 9th film from Quentin Tarantino’ is a shameless indulgence in the director’s obsessions – pop culture, nostalgia and, at the heart of it all, Hollywood – toward the end of the studio system’s Golden Age in 1969.

With period dressing where necessary and a minimum of CGI, Los Angeles itself provides plenty of authentic locations – so, lots to see. Rent yourself a ’66 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and buckle up.

TV Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) with his longtime pal and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are neatly introduced in a b&w faux documentary interview on the set of Rick’s TV show Bounty Law.

The Western town is the old Melody Ranch, 24715 Oak Creek, Newhall near Santa Clarita, a few miles north of Los Angeles.

Opened by Monogram Pictures in 1915, the ranch was the setting for countless Westerns, including most of John Wayne’s Lone Star Monogram titles, as well as early Republic Pictures, such as Tumbling Tumbleweeds with Singing Cowboy Gene Autry, a big star who, in 1952, bought the studio – hence its name.

And, yes, in the Fifties, it was used for the backdrop to television favourites including Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, The Cisco Kid and the classic, Gunsmoke (although not, alas, Bounty Law, which is pure Tarantino invention).

Although the lot was virtually destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1962, it’s since been painstakingly rebuilt.

Did you recognise the main street from Tarantino’s Django Unchained, or as Deadwood, from the TV series?

There’s a Melody Ranch Museum which opened in 2001, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of movie memorabilia from the last nine decades. It’s part of the 22-acre movie studio lot, offering an opportunity to experience Western, military and 1930s gangster sets, vintage cars, tanks and original props.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Parking Lot, Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Rick meets with agent Marvin Schwarz: Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood | Photograph: Mal Davis

With Bounty Law cancelled, Rick is suddenly made aware of his declining career. Agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) even floats the dread prospect of making big-screen Westerns in (gasp!) Europe at a meeting in one of the movie town’s great institutions, Musso and Frank Grill, 6667-9 Hollywood Boulevard in the very heart of Hollywood.

Opened in 1919, Musso and Frank is the oldest surviving restaurant in Hollywood and, astonishingly, remains virtually unchanged with high ceilings, dark wood paneling, and comfy red booths. The waiters and bartenders dress in the same red coats that they’ve worn since regulars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo were served here.

From the 1930s, it acquired a reputation as the hangout for writers including James M Cain, Raymond Chandler, Nathaniel West, Dashiell Hammett and many more. The tradition was continued by a new generation led by Charles Bukowski.

Don’t be intimidated by its reputation. Musso and Frank is an oasis of old-school charm and civility, serving up what many people consider the very best martinis (with chilled sidecar, of course).

The meeting with Schwarz was filmed in the restaurant’s bar, a 1955 addition still referred to as the New Room.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Parking Lot, Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Rick breaks down: Parking Lot, Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

It’s in Musso and Frank’s parking lot at the rear that Nick breaks down as he realises he’s staring failure in the face.

A brief flashback, revealing the truth behind why Cliff is currently driving Nick around town (too many drunk driving tickets) introduces another Tinseltown institution, with the unmistakable neon frontage of The Frolic Room, 6245 Hollywood Boulevard, gleaming in the background.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Frolic Room, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Rick's drunken shunt: Frolic Room, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

You can glimpse the Frolic again later, alongside Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Boulevard (showing Three In The Attic) as Cliff drives Rick home from the studio. The Frolic’s small but wonderful interior appears in L.A. Confidential as Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) pops in for a drink.

An ominous note is sounded when it’s revealed that Rick lives on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, an address that’s etched into Hollywood lore. He’s the neighbour of director Roman Polanski, hot from Rosemary’s Baby, and heavily pregnant wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).

That hairpin bend leading up to the house, seen several times, is the real Cielo Drive at the junction with Bella Drive, just a few hundred yards from the site of what was Polanski and Tate’s rented home at the eastern end of the Drive.

This modest, farmhouse-style home, built for actor Michelle Morgan in 1942 and site of the real-life horrific murders, was 10050 Cielo Drive. It survived for many years afterwards, eventually becoming home to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who installed a recording studio.

When he had second thoughts and moved out in 1994, the house was demolished, and a Mediterranean villa built on the site. Even the number of the plot was changed to expunge all trace of the nightmarish events – and to discourage ghoulish sightseers.

Rick’s house in the film is 10969 Alta View Drive, Studio City, in the San Fernando Valley. The house tucked away behind it at 10974 Alta View Drive stands in for the Polanski-Tate home.

Dropping off Rick’s smart ’66 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Cliff swaps to his own slightly battered blue ’64 Karmann Ghia to drive home, supposedly to The Valley.

The ‘Panorama City’ exit sign is fake. The freeway is the western section of the Marina Freeway, Route 90, running between Culver City and Marina. The attention to detail is impressive – that barely-glimpsed blue neon windmill is a prop built for the film, replicating the long-gone symbol of Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakeries (a chain which ceased business in 1990).

Cliff’s trailer home seems to stand alongside the old Van Nuys Drive-In. This was a real venue which used to stand at 15040 Roscoe Boulevard in the Valley until being demolished in the 1990s.

For the film, the famous frontage was reconstructed at the twin Paramount Drive-In Theatres, 7770 Rosecrans Avenue, Paramount, over ten miles southeast of Downtown LA, toward Bellflower.

In the parallel story, happy-clappy hippie girls from the Charles Manson commune enthusiastically go dumpster diving for provisions alongside Super A Foods, 2924 Division Street in Cypress Park, east of the Los Angeles River, north of Elysian Park. The supermarket is well on its way to becoming a screen regular – remember Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper getting improvised medical supplies here in the 2018 A Star Is Born?

Tate and Polanski run the gauntlet of paparazzi when they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from Europe. Rick Dalton makes a similar arrival with his wife six months later. The section of the airport is the Terminal 6 passenger walkway and you might recognise those mosaic tiles from the opening scenes of Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. The famous mosaics were previously featured in Airplane!, Mel BrooksHigh Anxiety, Mike NicholsThe Graduate and John Boorman’s Point Blank as well as in TV shows including The Rockford Files and Mad Men.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Playboy Mansion, Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, Los Angeles
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Roman and Sharon party with Steve McQueen: Playboy Mansion, Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, Los Angeles

Part of Hollywood’s exclusive in-crowd, Roman and Sharon are soon off to a party at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, 10236 Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) ruefully bemoans that fact that he’s not Sharon’s type.

Among all the accurate period details, this stands out as a bit of a cheat. Hefner didn’t buy this mansion until 1974, five years after the events in the film. The original ‘Playboy mansion was in Chicago, where the organisation had its headquarters but it would have been churlish not to feature the very emblem of LA decadence.

It is Hefner’s real Holmby Hills mansion seen in the film – not the first time it’s appeared on-screen. The notorious party house was cheekily used as the ‘Convent’ in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. It’s now a private home but often used for corporate events, civic functions and photoshoots. Unless you get an invite, you’re unlikely to see much more of the estate than this gate and the bizarre intercom system disguised as a huge boulder.

Rick is now earning a living playing heavies in TV series, including an episode of Lancer. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction even more, Lancer was – unlike Bounty Law – a real TV series and one episode was directed by Sam Wanamaker, the actor/director who went on to become the driving force behind recreating Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Southwark in London.

If the actor playing Wanamaker seems naggingly familiar, that’s it’s Nicholas Hammond – Friedrich from The Sound of Music, all grown up!

Although the filming of Lancer uses both the Melody Ranch and the Universal Studios backlot, the ’Columbia Studio’, outside which Cliff picks up Rick at the end of the day, is the Studio Four Building of Paramount Pictures at 5515 Melrose Avenue, opposite North Plymouth Boulevard, part of the Paramount lot in Hollywood.

Even more confusingly is that controversial fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), supposedly on the studio backlot. It turned out not to be easy to film a 1969 backlot on the backlot of a modern studio. According to Location Manager Rick Schuler talking to Los Angeles Magazine, this scene was filmed on the campus of Norwalk-La Mirada Adult School, formerly Excelsior High School, 15711 Pioneer Boulevard at Alondra Boulevard, Norwalk. The school closed in the early 80s, since when its campus has been used for Grease 2 and High School USA. More trivia – one of the school’s old boys was William Conrad, TV’s Cannon.

The stretch of Hollywood Boulevard west of Cherokee Avenue, including The Supply Sergeant, and the Hologram USA cinema (transformed back into its earlier guise as the porno-house Pussycat Theatre), was dressed as 1969. The tall mock-Tudor brick building you see in the background was the Christie Hotel, 6724 Hollywood Boulevard, and now famously the Church of Scientology Information Centre.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Regency Bruin Theater, Broxton Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Sharon Tate gets to see herself in The Wrecking Crew: Regency Bruin Theater, Broxton Avenue, Westwood, Los Angeles

Over in Westwood Village, Sharon Tate excitedly goes to watch herself in one of her biggest onscreen roles, as the klutzy Miss Carlson, in Dean Martin secret agent spoof The Wrecking Crew.

The cinema is the Regency Bruin Theatre, 948 Broxton Avenue, Westwood Village, a deco gem virtually unchanged. The Bruin is also featured in John Frankenheimer’s 1957 drama of teen angst, The Young Stranger. The elegant white spire opposite is that of another Westwood cinema, the beautiful 1931 Regency Village Theatre, 961 Broxton Avenue, which hosted the premiere of unforgettable sci-fi classic Chubby Rain in Steve Martin-Eddie Murphy satire Bowfinger.

Paths cross when Cliff is happy to give a lift to Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), who lives on the Spahn Movie Ranch up in Chatsworth, north of LA. This was the base for the Manson ‘family’, of which Pussycat is a member.

Not surprisingly, the church which currently owns Spahn Ranch was none too keen on its use in the film, but a stand in was found barely a mile west.

The eerily quiet ranch, where Cliff Booth demands to meet the ailing owner George Spahn (Bruce Dern), was recreated at what was Corriganville Movie Ranch, in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains in the Santa Susana Pass area of Simi Valley. It was named after actor, stuntman and owner Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan and was open to the public as a visitor attraction until being damaged by fire 1970 and then again disastrously in 1979 when virtually all the remaining structures were destroyed.

In 1988, 190 acres of the original Corriganville Ranch were purchased by the City of Simi Valley and are now Corriganville Park, 7001 Smith Road, Simi Valley. It's open to the public and there are traces of film sites left along with placards describing movie history .

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Cicada, Oviatt Building, South Olive Street, downtown Los Angeles
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Marvin Schwarz phones Rick Dalton in Europe: Cicada, Oviatt Building, South Olive Street, downtown Los Angeles

Eventually taking Marvin Schwarz’s advice, Rick heads off to Europe for a foray into Spaghetti Westerns.

When Marvin calls Rick Dalton in ‘Rome’, he’s calling from the luxurious art deco interior of Cicada, a grand restaurant housed in the gorgeous Oviatt Building, 617 South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles, built in the 1920s as a luxury department store.

Its spectacular deco interior is familiar from Pretty Woman (it's where Julia Roberts has trouble with snails – “Slippery little suckers...”) or you might recognise it as the restaurant in which Tony Bennett serenades Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston in Bruce Almighty. More recently, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had a bit of a confrontation here in Doug Liman’s Mr and Mrs Smith and it's the site of Viola Davis' briefing at the opening of Suicide Squad.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood filming location: Cicada, Oviatt Building, South Olive Street, downtown Los Angeles
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood location: Rick Dalton receives Marvin Schwarz's call in 'Rome': Cicada, Oviatt Building, South Olive Street, downtown Los Angeles

Schwarz’s call is not exactly long-distance. The glamorous ‘Roman’ restaurant in which the now-successful Rick is enjoying La Dolce Vita, is also – erm – the Oviatt Building. Not the restaurant itself but the building’s magnificent deco frontage space dressed to like a high-end European hangout.

Six months later, successful and married, Rick returns to Los Angeles but it’s time to part ways with the easygoing Cliff.

As the clock ticks down on the fateful evening of August 8, Rick and Cliff celebrate the end of their professional partnership by getting totally wasted at Casa Vega, 13301 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks.

This isn’t another Tarantinoverse in-joke relating to brothers Vic or Vince Vega but one more LA legend, dating from the Fifties.

Meanwhile, Sharon Tate and her party are dining out at El Coyote Mexican Cafe, 7312 Beverly Boulevard, which is the restaurant where their real-life counterparts dined on that night in 1969.

Tarantino signals the last act with a montage of neon lights flickering on as darkness descends on the city. They are:

The abandoned Taco Bell, at 14232 Newport Avenue at Mitchell Avenue in Tustin, near Santa Ana way southeast of LA, which was brought back to life for a brief moment of screen glory (I believe it’s since been demolished).

In Hollywood itself, the still-thriving Pacific Cinerama Dome, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, was also taken back to the late Sixties with a marquee advertising a showing of Krakatoa, East of Java.

Chili John's, 2018 West Burbank Boulevard, Burbank – still serving “Burbank’s favorite chili since 1946”.

Taqueria Los Primos, 1910 West Pacific Coast Hwy, down in Long Beach, CA 90810 which, have started out as a branch of Der Wienerschnitzel and still having the trademark red roof, was restored to its heyday.

The Vine Theatre, 6321 Hollywood Boulevard (showing Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet). The Vine closed as a regular movie house in 2007 but can still be hired for private showings.

So, with no more locations to record, this is where my take on the story ends.