“The Man From Hollywood”: Tarantino’s Roundabout Hitchcock Homage

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“The Man from Hollywood” 1995

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Following Pulp Fiction and an episode of television’s ER, Tarantino decided to handle some light fare by directing the final short in the anthology film Four Rooms. In “The Man from Hollywood” Ted the bellboy (Tim Roth) arrives at the penthouse with a cart full of seemingly unconnected items. After a night filled with witches, psycho-sexual drama, and a babysitting job gone horribly awry, Ted is on the verge of quitting when beckoned to the penthouse by movie director Chester Rush (Tarantino). Right out of the gate Tarantino directs with the zeal of Rope, using two consecutive one takes or long takes, the second of which clocks in just shy of ten minutes with out a single cut. These long takes introduces: (1) all of the characters in a near 360 degree shot around the room; (2) Rush’s monologue about the genius of Jerry Lewis; (3) Rush’s praise for Cristal; (4) his subsequent tantrum on free loaders; (5) Hollywood numbers talk; (6) and, finally, a bit of social commentary about how “America may be right once in a while, but is very rarely fair.” These whimsical steady-cam shots lead the audience (and Ted) into the fourth room. Let the story begin.

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“The Man from the South” originally aired on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in January 1960, is based on a Roald Dahl short story of the same name. Starring a young Steve McQueen as an arrogant gambler and Peter Lorre in his most terrifying performance since M as Carlos, an addictive gambler whose wagers run on the sadistic side. The plot is simple: Carlos wagers the gambler (McQueen) that he cannot light his cigarette lighter ten times in succession. If he can, the gambler wins Carlos’s convertible. If he cannot, Carlos wins the gambler’s little finger.

McQueen’s character is so captivated by gambling, just the mere mentioning of the bet grabs him: in a static reaction shot of the characters, the gambler’s girlfriend and a bystander are shocked by the bet, but McQueen is all smiles. Everyone arrives in Carlos’s hotel room – the air is thick with nervous tension – the methodical set up of securing the gambler’s hand to the table and the proceedings of lighting the lighter is void of any score. The wager is interrupted by Carlos’s sister, who stops the proceedings by divulging that Carlos is a very sick man. He has collected 47 fingers and lost 11 cars in the past. Carlos’s glee at his wager statistics is absolutely chilling. In the end, after the wager is abandoned, the gambler attempts to light his girlfriend’s cigarette only to find the lighter does not ignite.

Tarantino’s homage strays from the unnerving escalation of gambling addiction, having the wager presented as a drunken game of a group of friends that are up late and have come across the episode with “Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre being motherfucking badasses.” The real danger of the scenario is presented when the Hollywood players want Ted to be the man wielding the ax. Ted is uneasy, but money changes everything. The finale is shot with precision (a homage to the crane shot in Notorious in which the key is revealed in Ingrid Bergman’s hand) – cinematographer Andrzej Sekula’s crane shot encompasses the entire action and all the characters, craning down to the single most important item in the shot: the lighter.

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“The Man from Hollywood” concludes Four Rooms with a comedic punch delivered unexpectedly from a scene wrought with tension. Tarantino is no doubt a master of handling tension in his writing and staging of conflict. Whether it is the game of cards in the tavern in Inglourious Basterds, the adrenaline shot scene in Pulp Fiction, or the final face to face square-off between L and B in Kill Bill Vol. 2, his misdirections are linked to cinemas greatest magician – Alfred Hitchcock.

– Gregory Day

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