Top 5 Rod Taylor Surprises

My top five Rod Taylor performances which I am a little ashamed to admitting I enjoyed.

1) Colossus and the Amazon Queen (1961) – Rod was always embarrassed by this comic peplum and if truth be told it’s not very good but he is a lot of fun in a broad comic part.

2) Zabriskie Point (1970) – an absolute mess but Antonioni had talent to burn and even when he misfires it’s worth watching. Try to see it on the big screen if it comes around.

3) The Man Who Had Power Over Women (1971) – a complete misfire in many ways with one of the most ridiculous finales in recent memory, but enough dramatic and warm moments to make one wish, really wish, it had been better.

4) Danielle Steele’s Palomino (1991) – don’t laugh. My expectations were low, I’m not familiar with this genre at all, but this was expertly made and I didn’t pick the twists. Delightful to see Rod with Eva Marie Saint again.

5) Welcome to Woop Woop (1998) – a heavily flawed movie but contains Rod’s best performance in the last 30 or so years. He’s hilarious.

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Top Rod Taylor TV Efforts

My top five Rod Taylor TV performances – for no reason other than for fun. In no particular order:

1) “The Raider” Playhouse 90 (1959) – an excellent corporate drama with Rod strong in a supporting role, the conscience of the piece (he performed a similar function in “The Great Gatsby” and “The Long March” also for Playhouse 90). Superb ensemble cast including Paul Ford and Donald Crisp, wonderful script. This should be better known.

2) “The Argonauts” Cheyenne (1955) – similar to an anthology drama, this is very self contained. A remake of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) with Rod in the Tim Holt role. This got him a lot of attention and deservedly so.

3) “And When the Sky Was Opened” The Twilight Zone (1959) – superb instalment of the classic series with Rod giving one of his best performances as a doomed astronaut.

4) “The Hitchhiker” Tales of the Unexpected (1980) – most of Rod’s credits in the 70s and 80s were pretty dire but this is a lively entertaining vignette, not the greatest script in the world but joyful to watch Rod and Cyril Cusack together.

5) Hong Kong (1960-61) – Rod Taylor really came into his own as a leading man in this series, a highly enjoyable action series in a Hollywood Hong Kong.

Page for “Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood”

The lovely Diane Tomasik, author of The Complete Rod Taylor Website, has kindly given my book on Rod a page on her site. I don’t know if the book had been written without Diane’s encouragement and support – she got me through some difficult times. And her site goes from strength to strength… she’s quiet for a few months and then bam! it’s updated. Terrific work.

One notable thing is so much of Rod’s stuff is available on You Tube now – I only researched the book a decade ago and it was tricky to track stuff down, but now it’s everywhere. Diane’s site has a lot of the links – such as Rod’s appearance in “Tales of the Unexpected”. Wonderful.

Five best of Rod Taylor

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.

Random tips if you ever want to write a biography about someone

Anyone out there interested in writing a biography might be interested in these lessons I learned from the experience of Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood.

1)         It’s going to take you forever. But you can’t think of that when you’re doing it – just lie to yourself (and your partner) that it won’t take long.

2)         The best way to get people’s phone numbers for interviews is through recommendations. Whenever you interview someone, always try to ask at the end if they can think of anyone else who’d be good to talk to – and get the phone numbers there and then if you can.

3)         Another good source for phone numbers is – surprise – the phone book. I found it a lot easier to get them directly out of the phone book than through agents or guilds. Although you do find yourself praying that the person you’re tracking down as a long convoluted surname rather than “Smith.”

4)         The internet is not the solution to all your problems. You will at some stage have to go to the library and go through microfiche, old newspapers and musty books. Not everything has been digitized yet. Of course, sometimes things are digitized after you’ve already done the work – this happened to me with old Sydney Morning Heralds, and google news archive. What took me a week could have taken a day. Still, it’s a risk you have to face.

5)         Americans sometimes have trouble understanding the Australian accent over the phone. It can be easier to just put an American accent on when you’re speaking with them.