Researching Rod Taylor’s biography entailed me viewing pretty much everything he’d ever acted in that was still on record and available. (There’s still a few TV shows and a lot of radio I would like to get my hands on.) Here are my five favourite films and performances of his.
1) The Time Machine (1960) – Rod’s first lead in a feature and still one of his best performances: scientist, dreamer, action man, lover, time traveller. Made under the radar by George Pal at MGM it’s been an audience favourite ever since – deservedly.
2) The Birds (1963) – Hitchcock’s last uncontested classic about an unexplained bird attack in a small coastal town. Tippi Hedren and Rod were cast as cheaper alternatives to Grace Kelly and Cary Grant and they pull it off. Why were they never re-teamed in another film?
3) 36 Hours (1964) – WW2 thriller where Rod plays a very sympathetic German who tries to convince American officer James Garner that the war has ended so he’ll give up details of the D-Day landing. A real gem.
4) Young Cassidy (1965) – hard-to-find biopic of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, this was originally directed by John Ford, who fell ill during shooting and had to be replaced by Jack Cardiff. Rod gives a great performance in the lead role, managing to hold his own with Maggie Smith and Julie Christie.
5) Dark of the Sun (1968) – a favourite of Tarantino and Scorsese, this is a gripping guys-on-a-mission film set during the Simba rebellion of 1960s Congo. It has everything: chainsaws, ex-Nazis, drunk doctors, trains, hookers, diamonds, nuns, racism, male rape, a literal ticking clock, and a genuinely different ending for an action film.
Special mention: Welcome to Woop Woop (1998) Stephan Elliot’s unpopular follow up to Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a film with many flaws, but gives Rod his best chance in 25 years as Daddy-O, the patriarch of a small town stuck in the 1950s, and he’s brilliant – scary, touching, and funny all at the same time.