Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Nona Tyson & Charles Williams
Starring: Don Johnson Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly, Charles Martin Smith, William Sadler
Year: 1990
Country: USA
Running time: 130mins
BBFC Classification: 18

We were spoiled in the 90s with a glut of superior noir/neo noir films, some lauded at the time while others being discovered for their brilliance sometime later and The Hot Spot deserves an, ahem, spot up there with some of the decade’s greats such as The Grifters, Devil in a Blue Dress, Miller’s Crossing, Miami Blues and One False Move.

Harry Maddox (Johnson) emerges from the searing Texan desert to land in the small town of Landers. With little on his mind save for money and women, he wrangles himself selling used cars under the no nonsense Harshaw (Jerry Hardin). He soon sets his eyes on young beautiful clerk Gloria (Connelly) and in turn finds himself within the predatory grip of Harshaw’s gorgeous younger wife Dolly (Madsen). Surrounded by scorching lust, which he finds impossible to resist, Maddox also executes a plan to rob the local bank and hide the money for a later getaway. But as both Gloria and, especially, Dolly sink their red painted nails further into Maddox’s skin (and  psyche) he finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of greed, lust, and double crosses as every choice he makes sends him on an unstoppable downward spiral.

An unsung masterpiece of pitch-black noir and perhaps Hopper’s best directorial effort (least to this reviewer), The Hot Spot has lost none of its heat or bite almost 35 years on. Beautifully shot (all wonderful wide shots capturing the simmering/sizzling heat of the suffocating Texas town) by the great Ueli Steiger (who also shot Hopper’s underrated follow up, Chasers) and impeccably constructed by Hopper (and writers Nona Tyson and Charles Williams, who’s novel the flick is based on), The Hot Spot barely puts a foot wrong as its thick noir grip tightens and tightens as Maddox’s (questionable) actions send him further into a hot Texas hell. There’s hardly a likeable character (save for Connelly’s Gloria) as they all simmer and eventually ignite from their needs of lust and greed. It’s a dark film that sinks further into nihilism as the story continues but is made riveting by the tight direction, wonderful photography, and a cast giving it their all.

Johnson (coming off the back of the recently wrapped up Miami Vice) has rarely been better: smouldering, intense, and completely amoral. Likewise, Madsen goes toe-to-toe with him as a force of nature femme fatale who wreaks havoc, seemingly just because she can. They story is also peppered with great noirish characters from Connelly’s innocent youngster caught in the middle, to a gruff sheriff (the great Barry Corbin) who knows Maddox is no good, to a surfeit of great actors popping up as various scumbags and town characters: William Sadler, Jack Nance, and Charles Martin Smith who provides the slimmest of (welcome) levity as Maddox’s slightly dim-witted co-car salesman.

While it’s dark, violent and with rarely any hope for the characters, The Hot Spot is also a gripping and fiery thriller building to a gut punch finale. Featuring a superb bluesy soundtrack from the great Jack Nitzsche including the likes of John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis and Bradford Ellis the music amplifies and complements the noir theme. One of Hopper’s best (and he’s not even in it) and a film that sticks to its dark rooted guns right up until the end.

Highly recommended.

Radiance Films will release The Hot Spot, on Blu Ray 19th June 2023.

Special Features:

– 2K restoration by Kino Lorber, overseen and approved by cinematographer Ueli Steiger – the film looks incredible (thanks to Steiger’s impeccable photography and this 2K restoration) and one can almost feel the hot Texas heat simmering off the screen!

– Uncompressed mono PCM Audio

– Archival Interviews:
Dennis Hopper
Virginia Madsen
William Sadler

Short but sweet (all under 10 minutes) interviews with director Hopper and a couple of the principals. The Hopper interview is from around the film’s release, and he’s filmed wandering around an airport (!) as he talks about the genesis of the film, how important the music was, and his time making it. Fun little time capsule interview and Hopper is his charismatic self and there’s some cool behind the scenes footage included.

The Madsen and Sadler interviews are the from the Kino Lorber release from a few years back and the two share the positive experiences of making the film and how they came to be cast. Madsen in particular talks fondly of Hopper and how he fully supported and protected her during filming. They both talk positively of the film.

Cool little featurettes but would have been nice to spend more time with all three of them.

– Interviews:
– Nick Dawson:
an informative chat with the author of the book Dennis Hopper: Interviews, as he discusses Hopper’s directorial career and how he came to helm The Hot Spot. It’s an interesting 20-minute chat if a bit Sight and Soundy/more like a lecture about Hopper. And if that’s your thing, then cool.
– Duane Swierczynski:
an even more informative and enthusiastic interview with crime author Swierczynski. A fountain of knowledge when it comes to the crime/noir and even Hollywood scenes, he gives great insight into the author of the original novel Charles Williams (taking in everything from his early life, his other novels, and the various versions of the novel and its subsequent movie scripts). Swierczynski is full of personality and love for the genre and it’s splendid to see someone discuss the film and novel with such enthusiasm. Great stuff.

– Trailer: cool trailer from the time of its release that sells the film well but perhaps reveals too much.

– English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork by Time Tomorrow

– Limited edition booklet featuring new writing by critics Elena Lazic on the film; Leslie Byron Pitt on the erotic thriller genre and the film’s place within it; and an archival piece on the film featuring an interview with Hopper by RJ Smith – not available at the time of review.

– Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
– not available at the time of review.

Where to watch The Hot Spot
The Hot Spot - Radiance
Andrew Skeates reviews Radiance Films new Blu-ray release of Dennis Hooper's fantastic, The Hot Spot.
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"To tell you the truth I don't think this is a brains kind of operation." Way of the Gun (2000)

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