After falling on hard times following the disastrous reception of The Last Movie (1971), Dennis Hopper saw his fortunes take a turn for the better in the latter half of the 1980’s. This was due to the fact that he received an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor in Hoosiers (1986) and attracted strong critical notices for Blue Velvet (1986) as an actor while his directorial career was relaunched with Colors (1988). Riding the wave of these successes, he made The Hot Spot, a neo-noir that harkens back to the genre’s formidable roots. First released on DVD by MGM and on Blu-ray by Shout Factory as part of a double feature with Killing Me Softly (2002), Kino has brought the film back into print with this solo Blu-ray release.
The Production: 4/5
Drifter Harry Madox (Don Johnson) drives into the Central Texas town of Landers on a hot summer’s day and quickly manages to find work as a car salesman. Even quicker than that, he manages to find himself caught between Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), the wife of the dealership owner, and Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), the dealership’s young secretary, in a love triangle. While Harry finds himself getting closer to Gloria, Dolly tries to leverage Harry into an extramarital affair with her, especially since she’s an alibi for him when the town’s bank is robbed. In this small Texas town, when passions run hot, someone’s liable to get burned…
Among neo-noirs, The Hot Spot is one of the more well done efforts in the genre, mixing old and new school sensibilities in the process. Working from a script originally written in 1962 by Nona Tyson and Charles Williams (adapting from his novel “Hell Hath No Fury” and originally intended as a vehicle for Robert Mitchum), Dennis Hopper clearly demonstrates a knack for noir atmosphere in a small desert town as well as quirky characters; he wrings out every last drop of both qualities for great effect. However, the only serious drawback here is that the movie is about 20 to 30 minutes longer than it should be, diluting some suspense and making the pace of the movie feel a bit longer than it should. Despite that, the movie is filled with solid performances and great use of the Texas locations that does make it absorbing even in the slower stretches. All in all, while it may not be mentioned alongside Chinatown (1974) or L.A. Confidential (1997) among the greatest neo-noirs, The Hot Spot is still a very good thriller that worth revisiting; in short, it’s a hidden gem ripe for rediscovery.
In a leading film role that coincided with the end of TV’s Miami Vice the same year, Don Johnson acquits himself well as the amoral Harry, whose attempt to have his cake and eat it too might just be his downfall; he is also known on TV as the eponymous Nash Bridges (1996-2001) and as the father of actress Dakota Johnson. As the sultry and wicked Dolly, Virginia Madsen has one of her best film roles, essentially channeling the spirit of Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944); her more notable film appearances include Candyman (1992) and a Oscar nominated performance in Alexander Payne’s Sideways (2004). In her first true adult role following memorable appearances in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985) and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), Jennifer Connelly is both lovely to look at as well as amazing as Gloria, who’s attraction to Harry motivate him to help her out when she’s in a jam; Connelly has gone on to win an Oscar for her performance as Alicia Nash in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind (2001) and currently can be seen on TV’s Snowpiercer. Other notable appearances here include William Sadler as the blackmailer Frank Sutton, who has salacious dirt on Gloria, Charles Martin Smith as an amiable co-worker of Harry’s at the car dealership, David Lynch favorite Jack Nance as the town’s banker, Jerry Hardin as Dolly’s husband and the owner of the car dealership, Barry Corbin as the sheriff, Leon Rippy and Virgil Frye as the sheriff’s deputies and Debra Cole as a woman in Gloria’s past whose death becomes a focal point in Sutton’s blackmail against Gloria.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a new 2K HD transfer supervised, graded and approved by cinematographer Ueli Steiger. Film grain is organic throughout, with vibrant color palette and fine details both given faithful representations; there’s little to no instances of issues like scratches, dirt and tears present here. This is by far the best the movie has ever looked on home video and easily surpasses the previous Shout Blu-ray and MGM DVD here.
The film’s soundtrack is presented on a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release, likely remixed from the original Dolby SR soundtrack. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with the sound mix and Jack Nitzsche score (performed by the likes of blues and jazz legends John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Taj Mahal, Earl Palmer, Tim Drummond and Roy Rogers) also given faithful representations here; there’s little to no instances of problems like distortion, hissing, or crackling present here. This represents the best the movie will ever sound on home video and easily surpasses previous releases.
Special Features: 4/5
Commentary by author/entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman – Newly recorded for this release, Reesman shares information about the movie’s production, the cast and crew as well as the neo-noir genre; it’s a rapid fire track, so it may take a couple of times to listen in order to get all the information here.
Trouble in a Texas Town (7:03) – Virginia Madsen reveals what it was like to work with Dennis Hopper and why she’s come to consider her performance as Dolly one of her favorites in this newly recorded interview.
Frank Sutton’s Last Dance (6:25) – In this newly recorded interview, William Sadler shares some of his memories of making the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (1:49)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – Slam Dance, China Moon, This World, Then the Fireworks, The Frontier
While it bombed out at the box office (despite some good critical notices), The Hot Spot is still a very good and well acted neo-noir and a solid directorial effort from Dennis Hopper. Kino has bested all previous home video editions of the movie here with a stellar HD transfer and a nice slate of bonus features focused on the film as well. Very highly recommended.
Amazon.com: The Hot Spot (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]: Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, William Sadler, Charles Martin Smith, Jerry Hardin, Barry Corbin, Leon Rippy, Jack Nance, Virgil Frye, Dennis Hopper: Movies & TV
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