Exploring: The films of Rick Dalton

Rick Dalton was born in the midwest and moved to Los Angeles where he found his initial fame on the TV series Bounty Law before moving on to a Universal contract that saw him make four movies for the studio before returning to TV to play the villain of the week on shows like The Green HornetMission Impossible and Lancer. He also made plenty of Italian films, like Jigsaw JaneKill Me Quick, Ringo, Said The GringoNebraska JimRed Blood, Red Skin and Operazione Dyn-O-Mite! He eventually reinvented his career and became a big star of direct-to-video films like The Fireman series and Coming Home In a Body Bag.

Of course, he’s also a fictional character in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, but Rick Dalton’s Hollywood career has roles in both real and made for the movie movies.

Tarantino has promised an entire book about Rick’s career — in the world of the movies, Tarantino writes the book after meeting Roger Ebert and Dalton at the 1996 Hawaii International Film Festival — and explains every single acting role of Leonard Dicaprio’s character. This book promises to have synopses, critical quotes and notes on Rick’s film and television career until 1988.

That book may or may not be released. Until then, we have this list.

1956

A Strange Adventure: The role of Harold Norton was played by Ben Cooper in our universe, but in the world of Rick Dalton, he played that part in this William Witney movie.

Jubal: Rick played Woody in this Delmer Daves-directed movie opposite Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Jack Elam and Charles Bronson. No suck character appears in our world.

Away All Boats: Rick has an uncredited part as Private Pickford in this movie.

These Wilder Years: Rick was an uncredited football player in this Roy Rowland-directed, James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck-starring movie.

1957

Tales of Wells Fargo (season 1, episode 13: “Jesse James): In the universe of Tarantino, Rick Dalton plays Jesse James instead of Hugh Beaumont; he encounters Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) when he’s accused of robbing a train.

WhirlybirdsA syndicated series produced by Desilu Studios, Rick appeared in an episode directed by Bud Springsteen (who directed eight episodes of the show between 1957 and 1959; he also directed Double Jeopardy).

Rick also appeared in the shows Tombstone Territory as The Salt Flat Kid in the episode “Wyatt Earp Tells No Tales,” as Jessie James on the “Death at Northfield” episode of Lux Video Theatre and as Buzz in the “So Long Miss Mulligan” episode of M Squad.

1958

Big Sky CountryPart of being a TV actor is being in pilots that aren’t picked up for a series. Rick played the oldest son on this show that was produced by Dick Powell, David Niven, Charles Boyer and Joel McCrea’s Four Star Productions.

Bachelor FatherRick played Kelly’s (Noreen Corcoran) boyfriend in the episode “Girls Will Be Girls.”

Man with a Camera: In this Charles Bronson-starring series, Rick appeared in the episode “Second Avenue Assassin” as Joey Savoyen.

Tales of Wells FargoRick was Butch Cassidy in the episode “The Hole in the Wall Gang.”

Darby’s RangersRick was Sgt. Hank Bishop in this movie, directed by William A. Wellman and starring James Garner. In real life, that part was played by Stuart Whitman.

Young and WildRick played Richard Edward “Rick” Braden in this Wiliam Witney movie, a part played by Rick Marlowe in our world.

1959

Bounty LawRick starred in this series from 1959-1963 and appeared in 48 episodes as Jake Cahill. Produced by Robert Fuzz and Lee Donowitz (who was part of the drug deal in True Romance and is the son of Donny from Inglorious Basterds), several episodes were directed by Paul Wendkos (The Brotherhood of the BellThe Mephisto Waltz), who Rick would work for through this career. Tarantino has mentioned that Rick was in some of the director’s 70s TV movies.

Rick’s co-stars were Martin Kove and James Remar; the character first appeared on the show The Restless Gun.

This series is based on Wanted Dead or Alive, which starred Steve McQueen. Dalton’s series ran on NBC at the same time McQueen’s ran on CBS. Beyond the moment where they meet in the film having such dramatic weight, Tarantino’s book had the working title of Rick Dalton: The Man Who Would Be McQueen.

Battle of the Coral Sea: Rick had a small role in this Paul Wendkos-directed movie which starred Cliff Robertson, L.Q. Jones and Tom Laughlin.

Rick picks Wendkos as his favorite director and talks about this movie when he meets with agent Marvin Schwarz in the novelization. “Yeah, I started out with him in my early days,” Rick replies. “I’m in his Cliff Robertson picture, Battle Of The Coral Sea. You can see me and Tommy Laughlin hangin’ out in the back of the submarine the whole picture.”

Marvin Schwarz replies,. “Paul-fuckin’-Wendkos. Underrated action specialist.”

RiverboatRick appeared in a guest role opposite Burt Reynolds and Darren McGavin in a William Witney (who Tarantino called out as a reference in Kill Bill volume 1, joining Charles Bronson, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Leone, Shaw Brothers regulars Cheng Cheh and Lo Lieh, Django director Sergio Corbucci and Lee Van Cleef)-directed episode. Witney directed six episodes during this time period that could be the one that Rick was in.

Drag Race, No Stop: Another William Witney film — this time one not from our reality — that had Rick as the lead and a cast that included Gene Evans, John Ashley and Richard Bakalyan. It was written by Vanishing Point director Richard C. Sarafian.

1961

Commanche UprisingAnother fictional film, it had Rick in a cast that includes Robert Taylor, Joan Evans, Claude Akins, Charles Bronson, Jay C. Flippen, Michael Dante and Tarantino’s acting coach in our reality, James Best. It was directed by Bud Springsteen and written by Samuel A. Peeples, the creator of Lancer. The poster is based on Navajo Joe.

The Chapman ReportIn this George Cukor-directed film — an actual movie in our universe — Rick played Ed Kraski, who was portrayed by Ty Hardin in real life. That actor, who left Hollywood to make movies in Italy — like Sergio Corbucci’s Eurospy movie Death on the Run — was an inspiration for the fictional Rick.

1963

Big GameAnother fictional movie, this time directed by Stewart Granger.

1964

Hellfire, TexasRick appeared in this fictional adaption of the real book by Nelson and Shirley Wolford, which in our world was made as A Time for Killing. Both worlds have the same cast — Glenn Ford, Inger Stevens — and Phil Karlson directing.

1965

TannerBased on the Phil Karlsen film Gunman’s Walk, this was a big movie for Rick, as he even promoted it on an episode of Hullabaloo with The Kinks that had Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as hosts. This film was directed — in the movie world — by Jerry Hopper.

1966

Jigsaw JaneRick played the killer in this pre-Argento giallo-style thriller that co-starred Suzanne Pleshette, Paul Burke, Jack Cassidy, Lloyd Bochner, Alice Ghostley and Aldo Ray. It was directed by TV movie king David Lowell Rich and written by Jerome Zastoupil, who is actually Tarantino (it’s his middle name and the last name of his stepfather).

The 14 Fists of McCluskyThis movie is why Rick had a working flamethrower in his garage, the exact one he used to burn up Susan Atkins. Based on Roger Corman’s 1964 film The Secret Invasion, Phil Karlson’s Hornets’ Nest and Rober Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, Rick stepped in to replace Fabian Forte after the singer injured his shoulder. The 14 Fists of McClusky also had Rod Taylor as McClusky (a name Tarantino used as the warden in Natural Born Killers; it’s Burt Reynolds’ last name in Gator; Rod Taylor’s last movie was Inglorious Basterds), Virna Lisi, Sal Mineo, Van Johnson, Tom Laughlin, Kaz Garas and Adam West. Directed by Paul Wendkos, the footage shown in Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood is from Stole Janković’s 1974 movie Hell River.

There’s also a fan poster by Octavio Terol for the Italian release of this film under the title Combaterre All’Inferno (Combat In Hell) that I imagine was re-released in Italy after Rick became a star there.

1967

Rick returned to TV after his movie career didn’t work out and was often a guest star or villain of the week on shows like:

TarzanDirected again by William Witney — who had several episodes in season 2 of this show, which would be 1967 — Rick played Brick Bradford in the episode “Jewel of the Jungle.”

Bingo Martin: In the episode “Hell to Pay,” Rick was Rocky Ryan. This is a fictional show that starred the fictional actor Scott Brown.

The Green Hornet: Rick appeared in an episode called “Hornet Hunter” as Thompson Shaw which is a lot like the episode “Invasion from Outer Space.” In that episode, Gary Kent served as the stunt coordinator on the episode. Kent was married to stunt woman Tomi Barrett, so we can see him as Randy Miller (Kurt Russell) who is married to Janet (Zoë Bell). Randy is, of course, the brother of Mike Miller, the killer from Death Proof. This would also be when Cliff Booth fought Bruce Lee.

Salty, The Talking Sea OtterRick signed a four-picture deal with Universal and his performance in this movie ended it. He played Jed Martin in this movie which seems based on the Ricou Browning movie Salty, which is about a sea lion.

1968

Rick only made one appearance in this rough year:

Land of the Giants: Rick was Dr. David Hellstrom in “The Capture.” This episode had to have been directed by either Irwin Allen, Sobey Martin, Henry Harris or my pick, Nathan Juran, who directed The Brain from Planet ArousAttack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

1969

The F.B.I.: William A. Graham directed “All the Streets Are Silent,” the eleventh episode of the first season of this show. Rick played the part of Michael Murtaugh. In our world, Burt Reynolds played that role.

LancerRick appeared as villain Caleb DeCoteau in the pilot of this show. This is where he’d meet child actor Trudi Frazer and director Sam Wanamaker (played by TV Spider-Man Nicolas Hammond) and discover that he had a future as an actor. The real Wanamaker would direct Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

After meeting with his agent Marvin Schwarz, Rick would have dinner with Sergio Corbucci and his wife, costume designer Nori Bonicelli. The actor didn’t know much about Italian films — this is not a unique thing, as when Sergio Leone came to America, he struggled to find actors willing to make a movie with him — and he confuses Corbucci with Sergio Leone and doesn’t respect him much, but goes to Italy to make movies anyway.

Kill Me Quick, Ringo, Said The GringoRick plays Ringo, a role that several Americans — Mark Damon, Montgomery Wood and Ken Clark are others — played. The poster artist for so many Italian movies, Renato Casaro, painted the poster that appears in the movie. This movie was directed by Calvin Jackson Padget, who is really Giorgio Ferroni, the director of Mill of the Stone Women.

1970

Nebraska Jim: Tarantino knows his Italian westerns. Savage Gringo AKA Gunman from Nebraska was called Nebraska Jim in Germany. Rick starred in this movie with Daphna Ben-Cobo, who is played by Tarantino’s wife Daniella Pick.

Red Blood, Red SkinBased on the novel The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian by Floyd Ray Wilson (whose name inspired the boxer Butch kills in Pulp Fiction), this movie was inspired by the Nathan Juran-directed Land Raiders and shares its star — Telly Savalas — but also has Carroll Baker in its cast. It was directed — in the movie universe — by Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, who made a movie that had to have influenced Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the gore-filled Cut-Throats Nine.

Cannon for CordobaThis is a real movie, shot in Spain by Paul Wendkos and starring George Peppard. Rick would play the part of Jackson Harkness, which Don Gordon did in our timeline. Pete Duel, an actor who inspired Rick thanks to his alcoholism and an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, is also in this.

Hell BoatsA Wendkos movie that Rick acted in opposite James Franciscus.

Operazione Dyn-O-Mite!Rick played Jason in this Eurospy movie directed by Antonio Margheriti. The footage in the movie comes from Sergio Corbucci’s Moving Target.

Rick also appeared on the shows Matt Lincoln and Mission: Impossible in 1970 and had some level of new fame after saving the life of Sharon Tate.

Tarantino said, “But the thing is, on the episodic-TV circuit, he’s a bigger name now. He’s not quite Darren McGavin, all right? Darren McGavin would get paid the highest you could get paid as a guest star back in that time. But Rick’s about where John Saxon was, maybe just a little bit higher. So he’s getting good money and doing the best shows. And the episodes are all built around him. So as opposed to doing Land of the Giants and Bingo Martin, now he’s the bad guy on Mission: Impossible, and it’s his episode.”

1971-1980

Rick appeared on the shows Cade’s County and Benacaek, a show that starred George Peppard. Perhaps in this universe, Rick was able to tell Peppard to stay on his show and not end it for a movie career.

The Deadly Trackers: Rick was in this movie, directed by Barry Shear, along with Richard Harris, Rod Taylor and Al Lettieri.

GrizzlyRick played Don Stober instead of Andrew Prine in the timeline of the movies.

1980s

The Fireman: Rick was in a series of direct-to-video movies in which he — according to Screen Rant — plays a cop and Vietnam vet whose discover of police corruption leads to the death of his young partner, played by Samuel Jackson. Dressing as a firefighter and using the flamethrower that Rick would forever be known for, his character sets criminals on fire in a movie a lot like Exterminator 2.

Rick produced and directed this movie with Cliff doing the action scenes. It led to two sequels and a whole new career of Rick making VHS era ripoffs of bigger action movies and working with Cannon Films.

Tarantino said, “Cliff Booth in 1979 or ’80, wrote a vigilante exploitation movie for Rick … Rick read it and goes, “We can do this better,” so Rick rewrites it and the two of them are going to produce it, they get the money, and it’s a vigilante movie called The Fireman. The lead character was in the Vietnam War — it’s very similar to The Exterminator — he became a cop and then he started seeing this whole group of bad apple cops that are killing guys and are completely corrupt. And they end up killing his partner, played by a very young Samuel L. Jackson. The film becomes a real big hit, and that makes Rick, he gets a third career, going into the ’80s, as a straight to video action star.”

Coming Home In a Body BagRick starred in this Anthony Irvin-directed, Anthony Irvin-produced movie that gets discussed in True Romance. It also had Somerset O’Neal in the cast, who played the leader of Fox Force Five, a pilot for a TV show that also had Mia Wallace as the deadliest woman in the world with a knife, Raven McCoy. That show within a movie — Pulp Fiction — is based on The Doll Squad.

One surmises that the fatal ending of True Romance kept the sequel from getting made.

Rick retired in 1988 after his action stardom brought him back one more time to Italy as well as the Philippines. He moves to Hawaii with his wife Francesca Capucci and meets Tarantino at the 1996 Hawaii International Film Festival.

Movies Rick didn’t get:

Rick lost out on the role of Lover Boy in Gidget to Tom Laughlin and Virgil “The Cooler King” Hilts in The Great Escape to Steve McQueen. He also offered to play Hud Dixon in The Specialists but Sergio Corbucci went with Johnny Hallyday.

Ads Rick was in:

Old Chattanooga Beer: Rick did a commercial for this beer on an episode of Bounty Law. The same beer shows up in Death Proof.

Red Apple Cigarettes: These cigarettes show up in The Hateful Eight, Inglourious Basterds, Planet Terror, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. In a scene you can see on the blu ray for Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, Rick does a commercial for Red Apple and says the tagline: “Better drag, more flavor, less throat burn.”

Big Kahuna Burger: Rick said “Pineapple? On my burger?” before the commercial was shot, which ended up being in the ad and in five more commercials over the next two years.

Want more Tarantino nerd writing? Check out 37 movies that make up Kill Bill and Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures.

Sources used for this article

Wikipedia: The films of Rick Dalton

Screen Rant: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: Rick Dalton’s Complete Filmography

The Quentin Tarantino Archives: Rick Dalton

The Wrap: Rick Dalton’s Fake Films

Cinema Blend: Here’s What Happened To Rick Dalton After Once Upon A Time In,,,Hollywood

A Shroud of Thoughts: The Alternative History of Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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