Tarantino, Travolta and Turnarounds

“Forget it, it’s too risky.” The first line of Quentin Tarantino’s defining film “Pulp Fiction” hits on a couple of levels. It kick-starts an incredible, incendiary and sometimes indecipherable two-and-a-half hours of risk, reward and revenge.

“Pulp Fiction” is impossible to pigeonhole. On one hand, you’ve got a gangster flick with guns, violence and one-liners to keep even the giddiest action fan happy. On the other, the two lead characters spend as much time talking about French cheeseburgers as they do actually killing.

“Pulp Fiction” was a risky film — an unseen format of storytelling paired with a provocative directorial vision and an extremely dicey cast could have spelled disaster. Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t a household name, Bruce Willis was in a rut after a string of box office flops and Uma Thurman was a relative unknown.

Spearheading this island of misfit toys was John “I Was in ‘Grease’” Travolta — an actor whose career kicked off with so much promise (“Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,” “Blow Out”) and whose career seemed to be on an endless downward spiral. A trio of late-80s/early-90s flops from “Look Who’s Talking” to “Look Who’s Talking Now” solidified Travolta as a once-promising dud. Think Nicolas Cage’s recent awful filmography, and then multiply it by ten.

Then Tarantino came along. One “Best Actor” Academy Award nomination and career defining performance later, Travolta would go down in film history, not as “Danny from ‘Grease,’” but as Vincent Vega, a burger connoisseur and Tarantino creation.

In celebration of Travolta’s career, (to put it in poetic terms), here are three of the other greatest on-screen comebacks.

*Andover Film Club will be screening “Pulp Fiction” this Friday, September 19, in Kemper Auditorium at 7 p.m.


He is Iron Man. He is Sherlock Holmes (well, at least in the movies). But before that? Drug addiction, jail and rehab kept him off the big screen and in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. RDJ’s early work merited an Oscar nomination for his work in Chaplin, but a ten-year slump led many to write this “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” off. Who’s got the last laugh now?


No, that’s not a typo. Yes, Katharine Hepburn, four-time Oscar winner and all-time acting legend was once box-office poison. Between 1937 and 1938, no studio wanted anything to do with her. So what did she do? She singlehandedly turned her career around, starring in a film to which she owned the rights: critically-acclaimed and still-adored classic “The Philadelphia Story.” The rest is history.


All right, all right, all right. Let’s jump to a more recent history. Matthew “I Take My Shirt Off” McConaughey’s career opened with a few stellar films (the iconic “Dazed and Confused,” the thrilling “A Time to Kill” and the sublime “Lone Star”), but the early 2000’s saw McConaughey go through a … shirtless faze. Romantic comedies populated his filmography, and though they were popular, they earned him a bad reputation. The past year saw McConaughey transition through the self-titled “McConaissance” and rev up the seriousness with roles in “Killer Joe,” “Mud” and HBO’s “True Detective,” as well as winning Best Actor for “Dallas Buyer’s Club” in 2013.