Quentin Tarantino’s cinema speculation: 5 films and where to find them

If you’re a movie fanatic, one book that’s definitely worth checking out is Quentin Tarantino’s Cinema speculation (buy it here). On the brilliant Video archives podcast (which you really should listen to), Tarantino downplays the autobiographical nature of the book, which is mostly about his reactions to the films that defined him as a child of the seventies. But along with the film analysis, there is a lot of interesting, autobiographical material that adds up to a nostalgic portrayal of a young film fan coming of age. For many of us, it’s hard not to relate.

With that in mind, Tarantino’s formative films are likely different from those of us who grew up a generation or so later, but every single film he mentions is worth seeking out. Here are five to get you started:

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Tarantino has never hidden his love for this “revenge-o-matic,” which is his affectionate term for revenge action movies. He is calling Rolling Thunder the greatest revenge-o-matic ever made, and he’s right. Adapted from a screenplay by Paul Schrader (though Tarantino maintains that very little of his dialogue made it into the film), director John Flynn and writer Heywood Gould crafted a film so grim that critics of the time attacked it with surprising fury. Because of Tarantino’s influence, the film is much easier to find now than it was in the eighties or nineties if you scoured the video stores. In the William Devane that eighties kids like myself remember as a sitcom star and beyond Knob Landing, stars as a former NAM prisoner of war who returns home after years in captivity to find that his wife is with another man and that his son barely remembers him. He’s on the verge of going broke, but when his wife and son are murdered by the Acuna Boys, who, for good measure, grind his hand off with a garbage disposal, he embarks on a violent mission of revenge. Everyone in this movie is top shelf, with Devane’s intensity something to behold, while Linda Haynes (as a quasi-love interest) is more real than you’d ever get in a movie like this. But a young Tommy Lee Jones walks away with the film as Devane’s NAM buddy who helps him wipe out the Acuna Boys in the blood-spattered finale. Tarantino would probably prefer you watch it on a grainy VHS or a 35mm print at the New Bev, but I should mention that it’s also streaming on TubiTV in a nice HD print. Sorry QT.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

I was actually lucky enough to see this in 35mm at the New Beverly while I was in Los Angeles for work a few weeks ago. It had been at least a decade since I had last seen this Clint Eastwood classic, which marked his last collaboration with director Don Siegel. As Tarantino explains in his book, Siegel was the one who took Eastwood out of westerns and made him contemporary Coogan’s Bluff and Dirty Harry. Escape from Alcatraz is unique to an Eastwood film in which he plays one of a trio of real-life Alcatraz inmates who escaped the prison in 1962 and were never heard from again. It is very low-key and unfolds almost like a docudrama. It benefits from Siegel’s ace direction and a taut script by Richard Tuggle, who would go on to direct the weirdest Eastwood film ever – Lace up. Patrick McGoohan is excellent in this as the cruel warden, and there are some unforgettable scenes, such as when an elderly inmate uses an ax to cut off some of his own fingers. This is streaming on Prime Video and Paramount Plus in the US

Deliverance (1972)

So this is probably the most famous film on the list, with John Boorman’s Deliverance widely regarded as a classic. We actually just made one WTF happened to this movie about it, and it remains one of the most disturbing thrillers of the seventies. The story of four Atalanta businessmen (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty) out of their element in rural Georgia, the film has lost none of its shock value fifty years on. Even if you know where it’s going and have heard of the infamous “squeal like a pig” scene, nothing prepares you for seeing it. This is available on Netflix in the US

Vice Squad (1982)

Tarantino does not dedicate an entire chapter to the 1982s Deputy teambut he mentions it a lot in the chapter on Paul Schrader Hardcore. He sees the film as an unofficial sequel, which makes sense. It follows a woman who is a loving suburban mom by day but a prostitute named Princess by night. The great Season Hubley plays her, and she encounters a killer pimp named Ramrod, played by Wings Hauser in perhaps the creepiest villain performance of the eighties. This is a creepy, seedy piece of exploitation cinema. Still, it’s extremely compelling and actually contains a line that Eastwood (or one of his writers) could have ripped off for Sudden Impact, when the film’s police hero says, “make my day” during the climax. You can find this one for rent on iTunes, but a word of warning – it’s HARDCORE. If you’re on the sensitive side, this is one you might want to skip, but for those of us who like that sort of thing, it’s a nasty little treat.

Bullitt (1968)

Steven Spielberg, Bullitt, Steve McQueen

Considering that the films Tarantino writes about are from the sixties and seventies, there is one name that looms large over the book, and that is Steve McQueen. He was the most significant action star of his era, and a picture of McQueen with him The Getaway director Sam Peckinpah graces the book’s cover. One of the most compelling chapters is Tarantino’s assessment of Peter Yates’ Bullitt, which remains one of the definitive McQueen films. Steven Spielberg just signed on to make one followl, with Bradley Cooper taking over the McQueen role. While everyone knows about the car chase, QT also cites McQueen’s fashion as having a huge influence, as movie cops at the time were quite square. With its hip jackets and sweaters, Bullitt is anything but square, and every hip seventy officer, from Serpico to Starsky & Hutch, McQueen owes a debt of gratitude. You can rent this on iTunes or pretty much anywhere else.

And there you have five movies to get you started if you liked reading Cinema speculation. Let us know in the comments if you liked this list and maybe we’ll make another!

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