The Movie Tourist visits ‘Jack Rabbit Slims’ from Pulp Fiction (1994)
A closer look at a special locations in film history starts with this iconic place.
The Movie Tourist is a series where we visit unique locations in famous films and dig a little deeper to uncover the greatest places in movie history.
First up, The Movie Tourist travels to “Jack Rabbit Slims”, located in Los Angeles and described as “a wax museum with a pulse.” This is the restaurant of choice for aficionados of 50s pop culture whether you crave a five-dollar shake or a Douglas Sirk steak served bloody as hell, this is the place for you. Just make sure you stick around for their world famous Twist contest. It’s from 1994’s Pulp Fiction and the Tourist is there.
Pulp Fiction is unquestionably a film packed with iconic moments as highlighted by the the fact it has been continuously referenced in everything from Space Jam to getting mined for ideas on the Simpsons, who even did their own spin on the film’s structure in the season seven episode 22 Short Films About Springfield. At the same time, while the film certainly isn’t short on iconic locations (some we will revisit in later installments) “Jack Rabbit Slims,” which appears at the centre of the story “Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace’s Wife,” is certainly the most memorable as hitman Vincent (John Travolta) has been tasked with looking after his bosses wife Mia (Uma Thurman) while he is out of town, a task only made the more daunting by the rumour that Marsellus had thrown a business associate off a balcony for giving Mia a foot massage. Of course not wanting to run the risk of the same fate, Vincent goes along with Mia’s wishes, which includes taking her out to her favourite restaurant.
Unsurprisingly for writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who’d already established at this point a love for pop culture with both his debut film Reservoir Dogs and unfinished short My Best Friend’s Birthday, which had memorably opened to its disc jockey lead proclaiming that the Partridge Family saved his life. Pulp Fiction is merely a step up with “Jack Rabbit Slims” coming across like a temple of devotion to 1950’s nostalgia, which it seems every 50s-themed diner has aspired to imitate in its wake.
Not content to just hang a few framed retro posters on the wall or have their staff dress like Grease rejects, here the idea seemingly is to convince the diner that they have literally stepped into a time warp as you’re waited on by celebrity lookalikes like Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly and Mamie Van Doren. Meanwhile Ed Sullivan plays the host and Ricky Nelson performs on stage. The size and loud visual impact of the décor can be noted as matching the general in-your-face attitude of the film as here we have a movie which throws down the musical gauntlet to other movies by opening to the strains of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” announcing that it’s arrived. I think the biggest disappointment for fans is when they learn that the restaurant was constructed on a set rather than being an actual place, but this hasn’t stopped several imitators popping up like ‘Hotel California’ claiming to be the real one.
While the scene can be enjoyed on an obvious visual level such as the converted car booths, movie posters for the likes of Attack of the 50 Foot and Woman or Motorcycle Gang, you can even see Marilyn recreating the subway scene from The Seven Year Itch, there are also a lot of smaller little nerdy nods to be enjoyed such as the umbrella’s, which look like flying saucers or the $5 dollar shake ordered by Mia. Here it’s not a case of chocolate or vanilla but rather “Martin and Lewis or Amos and Andy?” Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis representing Vanilla, and black comedians Amos and Andy obviously representing chocolate. Even the two options for Vincent’s Douglas Sirk steak (named after the 1950s director) “Burnt to a Crisp or Bloody as Hell” can be read as representing to extreme nature of the director’s dramas.
The piece de la resistance though is the dance stage in the centre home of the restaurant, which the rest of the restaurant is focused around, especially with it playing host to their “world famous” twist contest which is where we get to see Mia and Vincent perform the now iconic dance routine, which a quick youtube search of wedding first dances will further confirm the lasting appeal of that sequence, despite being a pastiche of Gloria Morin and Mario Mezzabotta’s dance scene in 8 1/2, a nod that was seemingly overlooked by many fans. What many mistake however is assuming that Mia and Vincent win the twist contest seeing how they return to Mia’s house with the trophy in hand. However during the story “The Gold Watch” as Butch walks into his apartment we can hear on the neighbour’s TV a report that the trophy was in fact stolen.
Watched as a solo segment, cutting away Mia watching Vincent on her internal CCTV or the post dinner overdose sequence and what we get contained within the restaurant is a fascinating interaction between these two characters helped only further by the Vamp Uma being such a magnetic presence on the screen, but throughout the sequence Tarantino cuts the action tight as we see the initially awkward couple highlighted by the near revulsion on Vincent’s face at the prospect of sharing Mia’s straw. But as the evening progresses they slowly start to warm to each other as Mia explains the concept of her failed TV pilot Fox Force Five and the character she played “Raven McCoy” who could be argued formed the catalyst for “The Bride”. Certainly there are hints of something deeper happening between these two such as the way she has him roll her a cigarette, the two playfully giving each other pet names or the climax coming with their perfectly choreographed dance sequence seemingly made up on the fly. Tarantino though here crafts a believable sequence which doesn’t need some cornball moment but instead is able to play out on the strength of two characters discovering similarities between themselves over the course of a dinner so that by the time they return to Mia’s there is an obvious connection between them. Yes Vincent if given the chance would love to sleep with Mia, but as we see during the conversation with himself in the bathroom, he’s almost knows that it won’t end well for him if he does, only to ultimately find himself still in a worst situation regardless when he comes out of the bathroom to find an overdosed Mia.
If anyone thing could be pinpoint as to the strength of this scene, it would be Thurman’s Mia. Not only does she command your attention whenever she on the screen with her vamp like styling and ice cool confident demeanor, but even the smallest throw away scenes seem so much more in her hands, such as the post cocaine snort smirk or here comment or enjoying a silence seem effortlessly cool. Uma though has always been at her strongest when working with Tarantino, who proclaimed her “the most beautiful woman in the world” while promoting Kill Bill Vol.1 and even here he makes her the cover girl for the film, no doubt raising confusion with some audience members as to why her appearance in the film was so limited. At Jack Rabbit Slims it’s almost like he’s putting her on a pedestal during this sequence … not so much in the one which follows, the camera longingly lingering on her shots while feeling almost awkward, much like Vincent is in this situation when the camera cuts to him.
If you were to make a list of essential Tarantino moments, it’s safe to say that “Jack Rabbit Slims” would be featured if only for Mia and Vincent dancing, but it’s so much more than a hip dance number with so many smaller details to discover within its walls. This Movie Tourist says it’s a location well-deserving of its legacy and a perfect place to stop by again and again.
Do you have a favourite movie location you’d like me to visit? Let me know in the comments section your favourite movie locations?