Sunday, October 29, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches (2016)

Charming, handsome Rod Taylor is someone I've come to very much appreciate in the last several years...although, as it turns out, I've actually loved him since I was a child. That, of course, is because he voiced Pongo in Disney's ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961)...or as Taylor refers to him, "this English doggy."

Taylor's fascinating career, transitioning from being a commercial artist in his native Australia to an actor who worked with Disney, Hitchcock, Ford, George Pal, and many more is captured in the very entertaining documentary ROD TAYLOR: PULLING NO PUNCHES (2016).

A lengthy 2012 interview with the man himself is the centerpiece of the documentary. Taylor, who passed away in 2015, is jolly and self-deprecating, looking back with appreciation on a great career. (Although his take on DALMATIANS is a bit startling...he wasn't happy about it and felt it was akin to "a two-bit radio show.")

It's hard to believe at first that the man who looks like he'd be anyone's favorite granddad is the actor with the killer good looks, but then he grins and the eyes twinkle and yep, the Rod Taylor magic is still there.

Interviews with a number of Taylor's colleagues are also featured, including Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Tippi Hedren, and Veronica Cartwright. Many of the films in Taylor's terrific filmography are discussed, including THE TIME MACHINE (1960), SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963), and THE BIRDS (1963), to name just a handful.

The documentary left me wanting to see THE V.I.P.s (1963) which Taylor fondly describes as "a movie...a big, old-fashioned movie." Taylor names his favorite film as YOUNG CASSIDY (1965) and his most impressive film as DARK OF THE SUN (1968). I especially enjoyed hearing about his deep affection for John Wayne, with whom he appeared in THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973).

Taylor also discusses the one that got away, ruefully laughing that his reaction to the idea of a James Bond film was the biggest mistake of his life. ("Cubby, it will never work!") He thought the idea was more appropriate for a TV series.

The presentation of the documentary is one of the best I've ever seen, with beautifully designed retro graphics and terrific editing. As the attractive title cards of Taylor's various movies passed by, I kept thinking "I need to watch more of these!" The pace of the 80-minute documentary is sprightly, springboarding from topic to topic, yet I felt it managed a strong overview of his life and career without being strictly chronological or completely comprehensive.

The documentary left me especially wanting to see his season-long TV series HONG KONG (1960-61), which was a key factor in his rise to stardom along with THE TIME MACHINE. (Incidentally, reviewing his IMDb credits, how on earth did I forget that Taylor was in my favorite nighttime soap, FALCON CREST?!)

ROD TAYLOR: PULLING NO PUNCHES was directed by Robert de Young, with a script by de Young and Stephan Wellink.

Several other bloggers have reviewed this documentary. For more on the film please visit posts by Jessica at Comet Over Hollywood, Raquel at Out of the Past, KC at A Classic Movie Blog, and Andy at Journeys in Darkness and Light. Jessica also interviewed the producer and director, a very interesting read.

Special thanks to Raquel for connecting me with the documentary; seeing it was a real treat.

Hopefully this engaging film will be available on DVD and Blu-ray at a future point so that other movie fans can learn more about the life and career of Rod Taylor. For those new to Taylor's work, it's a great introduction, and those who already love him will find it delightful spending time in his company.

Thanks to Inkwell Films for providing access to an online screener of this film for review.


Blogger Vienna said...

I can't wait to see this. Thanks for your review. Always liked Rod and he had quite a career.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Hard to chart when he dropped off the A-list. Maybe after his TV show, the badly titled Bearcats, flopped. I'm sure the doc has his epic, real battle with with Wm Smith in Darker Than Amber. On youtube. That character Travis McGee, coulda been his "Bond" had it been a hit.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Brittaney said...

I've been working my way through Taylor's films this past year and am dying to see this documentary.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one Laura. I liked reading your review. I think many folks were taken aback by the 101 Dalmatians comment. Jessica warned me ahead of time!

I do encourage you to watch The VIPs. I know it's on Warner Archive Instant and I have to show it soon to my husband who will enjoy it too. It's not the best movie but I enjoyed it immensely. Superb cast and it harkens back to a glamorous time of air travel that is gone forever.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I'd like to see it sometime.

Meantime, did he say anything about how much John Ford directed of his favorite film "Young Cassidy"? In some accounts, it was only a few minutes, but the one time I heard Taylor himself speak about Ford, he said "We made a film together, a lovely film called "Young Cassidy." Ford worked two to three weeks according to accounts before falling ill--I believe that he had prepared the film so well that to a great extent what he intended is there even after Jack Cardiff took over, especially in Taylor's own performance. It surely does not have the same sustained inspiration it would have had with Ford, but it is still a beautiful, underrated movie. I'd also acknowledge that though he especially esteemed Ford, Taylor plainly did get along with Cardiff because Cardiff went on to direct him in two more films, the forgettable "The Liquidator" and more impressive "Dark of the Sun." But Cardiff, though a great cinematographer, was not that remarkable as a director and this is easily the best movie that he signed. So this "Young Cassidy" situation is a real critical puzzle, though it's worth some consideration. This is a movie about an artist, specifically Sean O'Casey, a great Irish playwright, and so our only work in which Ford attempted to treat a figure comparable to himself.

All you Rod Taylor fans, if you are looking for something to see with him and haven't seen this, just forget the others for the moment and go right to it. He was right to consider it his favorite. His performance is easily his best over, just superb, and if I were choosing the Academy Awards, he'd have had it that year for best actor for this film.

Anyway, if there is any light on this in the film, please share it. He's in the whole film, and could best attest to how much Ford is really there. Again, however much, I believe the effect was definitive--and personally think of it as a Ford film.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I'm certain you'd all enjoy it. Raquel, thanks for tipping me off to THE VIPS being on Warner Archive Instant.

Blake, that is high praise for Taylor's performance in YOUNG CASSIDY. I definitely got a sense from the documentary that he appreciated Cardiff, especially what he accomplished with DARK OF THE SUN, which was filmed on location under dangerous conditions.

As far as Ford goes, here's an abbreviated version of Taylor's comments, hitting the high points: "We started out with John Ford, who's been an idol of mine...a great director...and we went to Ireland together to finish casting the movie...really got on well. We were making the film together, it was marvelous." Maggie Smith then says of Ford: "He was there when I arrived in Ireland, but he was very ill, he was in bed and that was all I saw of him. He just didn't appear, it was Jack Cardiff in the end." Taylor then praises Cardiff as director and cameraman.

Later in this section he goes back to the topic of Ford, said that the death of his mother was filmed on a Saturday. Ford was the director, and it was dead silent when the scene should have ended so finally he asked Ford if he'd had enough. "He got out of his chair, walked over to me, kicked me in the shins hard," and told Taylor he'd made him cry, then said "That's a wrap."

So the documentary doesn't clarify the extent of Ford's work on the film, but clearly he worked with Taylor for a period of time and I think was a strong influence.

Hope everyone gets the chance to see the documentary at some point!

Best wishes,

12:06 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

The scene of the death of Cassidy's mother is a high point--stunningly brilliant in the way it's filmed and movingly played. I was always sure Ford directed that (other accounts seem to confirm it) and almost mentioned it. It's usually easy to spot Ford, but not always as certain here--there's at least part of a scene where Taylor as Cassidy is with Flora Robson that at least seems filmed as Ford would do it, and seems to be played that way too, but maybe not. Ford directed Julie Christie but not Maggie Smith, who he had cast (too bad, but Smith is just fine anyway). Obviously, it was Ford's idea for Taylor to sing "The Young May Moon" to Smith--a lovely moment (the song is one Maureen O'Hara sang in a wonderful scene with Barry Fitzgerald in "The Quiet Man") even though Ford was not there to direct that; his idea for the scene carried a pretty good realization--no, it's not up to that scene in "The Quiet Man" even if it might have been. Really, I just don't want to reject the film because Ford couldn't see it through--it deserves to be far better known, and was the high moment of Rod Taylor's career, even allowing he is in "The Birds."

1:04 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I misspoke. Flora Robson played Cassidy's mother. The other scene I mentioned that seemed like Ford but likely was not was one with Edith Evans as Lady Gregory (Cassidy talks about his mother in the scene).

I meant to say thanks, Laura, for answering on this before.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Thank you for the review! Taylor is a favorite of my family, but I wasn't aware of this documentary at all.

HONG KONG is an excellent series that should have gone on much longer than it did. I've managed to collect all the episodes, but some are in less than stellar condition. It would be great if Fox Archive released it on DVD.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted I could make you aware of it, Maricatrin! And I appreciate your feedback on HONG KONG which looked interesting -- and Taylor seemed proud of the show.

Best wishes,

11:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Laura, Thanks so much for your generous review. Robert de Young and I are delighted that our homage to Rod has been well received in the US. "Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches" will be released on DVD in Australia by UMBRELLA Entertainment in early 2018 and we are hoping for a broader release at some point. The "Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches" Facebook page @rodtayloriconicactor is the best place to keep up with news about the film. Best wishes, Stephan Wellink

4:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for stopping by and for your comments, Stephan. I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary and am glad I had the chance to convey that to you and Robert de Young through my review!

Many thanks for the update on the future of the documentary and the information about the Facebook page. I'm sure my readers will be hoping for a US DVD/Blu-ray release after it's released in Australia!

Best wishes,

12:16 AM  

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