Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches (documentary 2016)
Directed by Robert de Young
Produced by Stephan Wellink & Robert de Young
Executive Producer Alan Finney
Edited by Leon Burgher
When you see Rod Taylor for the first time, you simply can’t turn away. It’s not even an option. Regardless of whether you’re watching him in a romantic comedy, an action-adventure bonanza, a drama, or one of his many television appearances, your eye is naturally drawn to him. It’s impossible to look anywhere else. Taylor’s business manager Murray Neidorf remembers, “People in the industry saw him and said ‘Wow…’” Angela Lansbury sums it up best: “He’s a man’s man. He’s a woman’s man. He’s an ideal man.”
The Time Machine (1960)
Many audiences first saw Taylor as H.G. Wells in The Time Machine (1960), but he also appeared in several films alongside such well-known stars as Debbie Reynolds (The Catered Affair, 1956), Elizabeth Taylor (Giant, 1956 and Raintree County, 1957), Jane Fonda (Sunday in New York, 1962), Doris Day (Do Not Disturb, 1965 and The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966), and many others. Regardless of the role, period, or setting, Taylor could make himself believable in any part.
His adaptability came naturally. The son of an Australian father and a British mother, Taylor grew up near Sydney and was initially drawn to art, particularly painting and pottery. He often created his art while listening to “awful radio serials,” thinking “I could do that.” Taylor’s work in radio allowed him to lose his Australian accent when necessary, becoming British, American, or whatever nationality was called for. He had a rugged, muscular look, but you could also detect a fierce intelligence behind those eyes. Taylor seemed equally at home drinking with the guys, dancing with the ladies, or lecturing a distinguished group of academics on the nature of cosmos.
Do Not Disturb (1965) with Doris Day
Although many American actors were often typecast as either television or movie actors, Australians were expected to move from medium to medium, which Taylor never saw as a problem. During the long post-production of The Time Machine, Taylor began working in television, landing the lead in the TV show Hong Kong (1960-1961), which chronicles the adventures of a foreign newspaper correspondent in Hong Kong. “I was the first anti-hero,” Taylor remembers. “I lost almost every fight to a bigger and better guy. And it appealed to people. They loved it!”
The Birds (1963) with Tippi Hedren
As an actor comfortable working in TV and movies, Taylor soon expanded his opportunities for both. Alfred Hitchcock wanted him for The Birds (1963) and got him. Disney wanted him for the voice of Pongo in the animated 101 Dalmatians (1961) and got him (although Taylor despised the role). Yet Albert Broccoli wanted him as James Bond and didn’t get him: Taylor thought 007 was better suited for TV rather than the big screen. He always called it “the greatest mistake I ever made.”
Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches reminds us that Taylor was a rock-solid actor who could literally play any part in any genre for any director. In Dark of the Sun (1968) he played the leader of a group of mercenaries in the Congo. He appeared as an Australian businessman with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The V.I.P.s (1963). Yet Taylor’s favorite role was that of Johnny Cassidy (an early name of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey) in Young Cassidy (1965), a film directed by Jack Cardiff and an uncredited John Ford. Taylor recalled after one take that Ford was so moved by Taylor’s performance that the legendary director ran up to him and yelled, “You son-of-a-bitch! You made me cry!”
Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches presents the viewer with a wealth of movie clips and interviews with co-stars and others who worked with the actor including Angela Lansbury, Tippi Hedren, Maggie Smith, Veronica Cartwright, Bryan Brown, Susie Porter, Stephan Elliott, and many more. And, of course, we’re treated to several moments with Taylor himself. Watching him, it’s clear that Taylor was very comfortable with his career and his life, relating great stories one after another about work, life, and the relationships he made as an actor. The biggest frustration in watching Pulling No Punches is that it makes viewers immediately want to journey through Taylor’s complete filmography, which would be a spectacularly fun and worthwhile project.
As Winston Churchill in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Taylor (who passed away in 2015) came out of retirement in 2009 for one final onscreen role playing Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Although Taylor only appears in the film for a few minutes, those brief moments were enough. Tarantino knew what audiences have known for decades: put Rod Taylor in front of the camera and it’s impossible to look anywhere else.
Many thanks to the filmmakers for the opportunity to review this screener. Please visit the Facebook page for Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches for the latest news about seeing the film on the festival circuit in your area. Hopefully we will also see announcements of DVD and Blu-ray releases. Also thanks to Raquel at Out of the Past: A Classic Movie Blog for introducing me to the film! You can read her thoughts on the film as well as those of Jessica at Comet Over Hollywood.
Photos: Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, IMDb, Daily Telegraph, CNN, Comet Over Hollywood, Coleman Zone, The Daily Star