The erotic thriller seems to be having a reevaluation of late, with new critical examinations of a genre seen as a breeding ground for cheap sleaze and titillation, especially in the face of the seemingly sexless mainstream modern cinema. It also doesn’t hurt that many intersect with another type of picture – the neo-noir. Such is the case of The Hot Spot.
Harry Madox (Don Johnson) drives fast and drinks hard. He lives by a motto about taking what you want because you won’t get it otherwise, which applies to both money and women. When he starts working for a used car lot in a small Texas town, opportunities for both come his way. Gloria (Jennifer Connelly) is a young and impressable clerk for the lot who Harry has eyes on, but Dolly (Virginia Madsen) also draws his gaze. She’s the wife of Madox’s boss, whose company she enjoys less than his money, but discovers Harry has robbed the local savings and loan and uses it to wrap him around her little finger as his life begins to go awry.
Based on the 1953 novel Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams, The Hot Spot is an impressively taut piece with excellent character work. It shows that places like these always have dark secrets that have a habit of coming to the surface at the most inconvenient times. Madox and Dolly are impressively amoral, and you can look at the picture as their love story, especially with a somewhat non-traditional ending. The trio of Johnson, Madsen, and Connelly are fantastic, and director Dennis Hopper relishes showing the audience just how twisted they are.
A layer of sweat seems to cover the film like a filter, adding an extra dimension of heat to what is already an incredibly steamy picture. It doesn’t shy away from things either, and the sex scenes are pretty hot, especially where they play with traditional gendered roles of dominance. There’s a sense of the Madonna-Whore complex in Gloria and Dolly, and the film presents the latter as raring to go whenever and wherever in her pink Cadillac and Marilyn Monroe-inspired curly blonde bob and polka dot dresses.
Johnson and Madsen are particularly hot, with the former coming right off his run on TV’s Miami Vice. It also has a fine supporting cast made up of character actors, including William Sadler as the local perving photographer, Charles Martin Smith as Madox’s fellow salesman, and a typically unique performance by Jack Nance as the head proprietor of the savings and loan that sees him frequenting the local strip club as well as presenting evidence of masturbating in his own toilets at the bank. Then there’s the super-cool laconic score by Jack Nitzsche, performed by a group of luminaries that includes Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker.
The Hot Spot comes to Blu-ray from Radiance Films with a 2K restoration courtesy of US label Kino Lorber, who released it in the States. It’s a fine-looking picture, with Swiss cinematographer Ueli Steiger’s photography giving it a perfect hot and hazy look and an excellent stereo track, especially with that score.
Bonus features are typically impressive, with a fantastic archival short of Hopper talking about the music on the French TV show Rapido, as well as new interviews with Madsen and Sadler and two video pieces on the film; one concentrating on Hopper and another on Charles Williams and the book adaptation. This one is particularly fascinating as it talks about an unfinished version by none other than Orson Welles and also how Williams wrote a screenplay intended for Robert Mitchum.
The Hot Spot is a fantastic slice of seamy neo-noir with excellent performances and a killer score. Radiance have done their usual job, presenting an excellent A/V transfer, and it’s a fine package. Much like Don Johnson’s, it seems.
The Hot Spot is out on Blu-ray on 19th June from Radiance Films.