Color, 1990, 130 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Starring Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, William Sadler, Charles Martin Smith, Barry Corbin
Radiance Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber, Shout! Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DV)D (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Based on Charles Williams' '50s crime novel, Hell Hath No Fury, this steamy thriller marked one of the inaugural entries in the rich, varied streak of '90s neo-noir films that often dovetailed with the erotic thriller craze. Here Dennis Hopper returned to the director's chair after Colors and the highly troubled Backtrack (and would soon act in another major noir, Red Rock West), serving up an impressive cast of character actors and an instantly legendary jazz soundtrack composed by Jack Nitzsche with performers including Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, and Taj Mahal.
Stopping off in a very dusty, very sweaty Texas town, drifter Harry Madox (Johnson at the tail end of Miami Vice) ends up selling cars at a dealership where he becomes entangled with two very different women: Gloria (Phenomena's Connelly), who works in the loan department, and the owner's wife, Dolly (Candyman's Madsen). Seeing a unique opportunity to rob the local bank, Harry seems to pull off the perfect plan but ends up with one hitch: Dolly, with whom he's started having an affair, provides his alibi if he kills her husband. On top of that, Gloria's in trouble with a shady local named Sutton (Sadler) and might bring out Harry's violent protective side.
Exactly the kind of twisty, sexy thriller that became a fixture of VHS shelves and cable programming throughout the decade, The Hot Spot benefits from its stellar cast with Madsen and Connelly (both doing scenes that became legendary among freeze framers) delivering potent updates on the dual, contrasting femme archetypes of classic noir. This one doesn't really try to reinvent the subgenre as much as give it a dusty, atmospheric new spin with the obligatory ironic twist ending not playing out exactly as you might expect. Hopper went on record later multiple times about his disappointment with the lack of promotional enthusiasm from his leads, but you certainly couldn't tell that from what's up on the screen.
Released theatrically and on VHS by Orion, The Hot Spot has been available on every major home video format over the years including a widescreen DVD from MGM and a Blu-ray bow in 2013 from Shout! Factory as part of a memorable double bill with the outrageous Killing Me Softly (a wild camp classic still waiting for its cult audience). That version was taken from an older master originally created for airing on the now retired MGM HD, and a subsequent, improved 2K restoration was undertaken in 2021 by Kino Lorber supervised by cinematographer Ueli Steiger. It's a substantial improvement with finer detail, more convincing film grain, and a vibrant color scheme. That U.S. disc features the trailer and new interviews with the always charismatic Madsen (7m2s) covering the unbearably hot shooting conditions, playing "a ripe peach on the verge of rotting," and her memories of her director, and a very jovial Sadler (6m24s) via video conference reminiscing about the very scruffy location shooting and his thoughts on the "veritas" approach Hopper took, plus an audio commentary by author Bryan Reesman. A 2023 Blu-ray in the U.K. from Radiance features the same excellent a/v presentation (swapping out the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track on the Kino with PCM 1.0 option here) with optional English SDH subtitles. The trailer is included here along with the Sadler and Madsen interviews, plus a 1991 interview with Hopper for the French TV show Rapido (4m35s) mixed in with some great behind-the-scenes footage as he chats about Nitzsche's musical approach and his take on the source material. He also goes into Colors a bit as well while strolling through the Roissy airport. A new interview with Nick Dawson (20m24s), editor of Dennis Hopper: Interviews, is a solid overview of the film's conception, the original script by Mike Figgis that got tossed out completely, the influence of Hopper's early days acting in Hollywood, and much more. Finally a new discussion with crime novelist Duane Swierczynski (22m12s) covers his adoration for Charles Williams, the author's narrative tropes, and the process of adapting it to the big screen after the initial script had been sitting around for ages. The packaging comes with reversible art including a new design by Time Tomorrow, plus a booklet with new essays by Elena Lazic and Leslie Byron Pitt plus an archival Hopper interview by R.J. Smith.
Reviewed on September 26, 2023.