Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches

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Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches

Runtime 80 minutes.

The late Rod Taylor was the first, and created the stereotype for the rugged, handsome, action-packed Australian movie star epitomized in later years by Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Worthington. But Taylor created their mold.

This documentary, brilliantly put together and directed by Robert DeYoung, tells the story, many in his own words, of how he came to be a Hollywood Star.

It also speculates on why it was Rock Hudson and not Rod who costarred with Doris Day in the classic fifties romantic comedies Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Actually, Doris co-starred with lots of different leading men in her romcoms, like Clark Gable and Cary Grant, but never with Rod, which is puzzling since Rod had a big success in a romcom with Jane Fonda, Sunday in New York (1963).

Screened recently at the Burbank Film Festival with a Q&A afterward with Tippi Hedren and Veronica Cartwright, this is a fascinating tale of Taylor’s life, capturing his spirit and personality through interviews with him and with many of his co-stars and people who knew him, like Hedren, business manager to the stars Murray Neidorf, Angela Landsbury, Baz Luhrman and many others.

The film is replete with clips, although, due to the low budget, trailers often effectively substitute for clips. Studios are jealous of their clips and don’t part with them on the cheap.

Each of those interviewed gives a fresh assessment of Taylor, what he was like to work with, and his personality. The film is chock full of inside anecdotes of the movie business, many told by Rod himself.

Although he had a big success with The Time Machine in 1960, I didn’t become a big fan of Rod’s until I saw Sunday in New York when I was in law school in Charlottesville, VA. There wasn’t much to do in C-ville, so I saw lots and lots of movies and that movie was a joy and stayed with me.

Later in his career he concentrated on action films. I am a big fan of John D. McDonald’s 21-book series about Florida, boat-living private eye Travis McGee (which are a lot better than Ian Fleming’s James Bond series), and Rod interpreted Travis perfectly in Darker than Amber (1970). I never understood why he didn’t play the role again or why nobody has made any of the other books into films. (Sam Elliot, one of my favorite actors, apparently played him in a 1983 TV movie but he was bearded and located in California; ugh!) I think it could have been a successful series and all the books were there (and still are) to be adapted into good movies. Mystifyingly, deYoung doesn’t even mention this movie in this definitive look at Rod’s life, probably because it was a dud at the box office. But box office is only one measure of the quality of a movie and Amber was a good one.

That’s the only criticism I have of his film. It’s a terrific documentary about a wonderful actor and a fascinating period in the history of film.


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