While Quentin Tarantino’s movies are well known for their violence, if we take a good look, there are plenty of small and enjoyable details for film nerds to discover in between.
Having in mind that Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood takes place during the end of the ’60s, audience can expect plenty of references from that time which can easily be missed from just one watch.
The set from Django Unchained appears in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
If you caught a hint of deja vu during the scenes in which Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are filming Bounty Law and being interviewed about it, that wasn’t a coincidence. In the tradition of classic western films and television shows reusing the same set to save money, the set where Bounty Law takes place mirrors the town in Django Unchained where bounty hunter Dr. Schultz first meets Django.
Bruce Lee fights like Kato in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As for the actual fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee, it feels straight out of an actual episode of The Green Hornet. If you’re a super fan of Bruce Lee, you might notice some key details about that fight, short as it was. As pointed out by Matthew Polly, author of Bruce Lee: A Life, actor Mike Moh isn’t mimicking Lee’s real-life fighting style. Instead, Lee’s actions in the fight more closely resemble Kato, the character that Lee played in The Green Hornet.
Inglourious Basterds gets a shout-out and foreshadows the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywod
In the clip we see in Once Upon a Time, Rick plays a soldier who blasts away at the Nazi high command with a flamethrower in an obvious parody of Inglourious Basterds.
The screen credit is more than just a wink to one of Tarantino’s other films — it’s also an early hint that Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood isn’t going to be a basic retelling of Sharon Tate’s murder that some feared it would be when the film was first announced. Inglourious Basterds famously ends with Hitler burning to death in a theater alongside most of the Nazi high command in a gleeful skew of actual historical events.
Red Apple cigarettes and the Big Kahuna Burger brands appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
In the scene, Rick Dalton films a commercial for Red Apple cigarettes, noting that they’re not only the best around, but have been the best since the mid-1800s. Of course, it’s all publicity for the camera, since Rick actually hates the brand, but the character would be alone in that opinion in the Tarantino universe. Red Apple cigarettes have shown up in a bunch of Tarantino’s movies — Mia Wallace and Pumpkin smoke the brand in Pulp Fiction, the Bride walks by a billboard advertising them in Kill Bill, and Kurt Russell’s John Ruth prefers Red Apple tobacco in The Hateful Eight. Part of the purpose of Rick’s commercial is to justify a discrepancy that no one was really asking about: how John Ruth smokes Red Apple decades before cigarette smoking had really come into fashion.
Hollywood runs over with signifiers of what’s happening onscreen
Tarantino’s always found ways to explore character by interrogating the way they consume and enjoy pop culture. From the “Like a Virgin” discussion in Reservoir Dogs to Bill’s Superman monologue in Kill Bill Vol. 2, characters in Tarantino films become more fully fleshed out through the way they engage with a deeper level of fiction. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood sees him pull that trick again in a way that’s at once more subtle than other films and screamingly obvious. As Rick, Cliff, and Sharon move throughout Los Angeles, they’re constantly surrounded by what seem to be direct warnings and foreshadowing of the violence to come through the billboards and advertisements of 1969 Hollywood.