Rick Dalton, the protagonist of Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has died at 90.
Or, uh, that was the news from Tarantino’s podcast “The Video Archives” as announced on Friday.
Dalton, fictionally best known as the star of the TV show “Bounty Law” and “The Fireman” trilogy, is survived by his (fictional) wife Francesca, according to the podcast. Dalton was the lead role in Tarantino’s revisionist history Hollywood melodrama, which put the past-his-prime actor and his loyal stuntman (played by Brad Pitt in an Oscar-winning performance) in the heart of key events in the late 1960s.
Namely — spoiler warning for a 3-year-old movie — the finale offered up a skewed variation on the infamous Charles Manson murders, in which his brainwashed foot soldiers came to Rick’s door and met their gruesome ends, with Sharon Tate and her compatriots partying next door and oblivious to their avoided historical doom.
You might say that Rick Dalton indirectly saved the hippie movement, which would make him a national hero.
Why the folks behind the Video Archives decided to make this announcement, just hours after the real-life passing of NFL star and periodic movie star Jim Brown, is anyone’s guess.
The picture, starring DiCaprio, Pitt and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, was another chapter in Tarantino’s recent run of cinematic wish-fulfillment history dramedies. “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” both offered a kind of feel-good historical workaround, one where freed slaves waged righteous hell on their former masters or where an elite group of globe-trotting Nazi hunters brought World War II to a violent and “early” climax via a convenient machine gun massacre. They, along with “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” all implicitly deal with how we view history through an inherently cinematic lens.
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” debuted at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival to solid notices and much online chatter. The $90 million Sony release earned $375 million worldwide in the summer of 2019, offering hope in a pre-COVID time that audiences would still show up for a well-reviewed, star-packed crowdpleaser with a nifty high-concept and an all-star ensemble cast.
Four summers ago, the film offered up a heaping helping of 1960s nostalgia. In 2023, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” evokes nostalgia for the mere idea that a film like that — R-rated, 2.5 hours in length, action-lite and lacking in conventional spectacle — could still be a solid box office hit amid the stereotypical tentpoles.