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Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Connelly
steam up the screen in a Dennis Hopper film noir

Jennifer Connelly, Don Johnson
"The Hot Spot"

Reviewed by John Orr

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Don JohnsonThe arrival of the DVD of "The Hot Spot" answered a small trivia question for me: What event led to a photograph I'd seen of John Lee Hooker, Dennis Hopper and several other people gathered around Miles Davis?

(I'd spotted the photograph in Hooker's living room when there to interview him a while back.)

The answer is "The Hot Spot," a steamy film noir directed by Hopper and starring Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly.

Hooker and Davis teamed up for the soundtrack, with Hooker twanging away with his tinny signature guitar licks and Davis playing riffs on his trumpet that owe a lot to blues guitar.

They are an appropriate choice for this film, whose plot is driven by sex, and which is beautifully directed by Hopper.

Johnson plays Harry Madox, a street-wise drifter in Texas looking for a big score who takes a job as a car salesman working for George Harshaw (played by Jerry Hardin, who is, as usual, fun to watch).

Also on hand at the used-car lot are Charles Martin Smith in an amusing turn as another salesman, Lon Golick, and Jennifer Connelly as Gloria Harper, a young office clerk who seems to vibrate between purity and the desire to get hot.

Madox is immediately attracted to the comely Gloria, who has some mysterious problem with a local Texas eccentric, Frank Sutton, played by William Sadler.

Virginia MadsenBut some unwanted habeņero peppers are thrown in the plot stew by Virginia Madsen, who steams up the screen as Dolly, the boss' wife.

Madox is street-wise enough to recognize her for what she is right away, as she hits him with big-time come-hither vibes, and smart enough to want to stay away.

Golick tells him that the boss, Harshaw, had said that Dolly just sort of happened to him.

"He should have gone elsewhere," Madox says, "and let her happen to someone else."

But, Madox is in his mid-30s and not all his thinking is done by his brains. Before long, caught between his desire for the young Gloria and the lustful steam oozing from Dolly, we can practically hear his testicles clanking.

Sure enough, as soon as Dolly gets him alone, she gets him.

DVD notes

"The Hot Spot" is in wide-screen format, which is the way they all should be. It's crisp and clear and the surround sound is great. It includes the original trailer, and the case has a two-wide sheet with a scenes directory and an badly abbreviated cast list. More information would have been welcome.

Meanwhile, still looking for that score, Madox pulls off a bank robbery, gets further involved with Gloria and beats up Sutton. Matters are getting very complicated for Madox, who is a fairly sympathetic character -- we want him to succeed, and get away to the Caribbean with Gloria, with whom he has fallen in love.

But, this is film noir and life can't be all that simple or happy for a guy like Harry Madox, who has a bag full of money with known serial numbers buried somewhere in the woods and who is all too willing to let little head do the thinking.

Hopper's direction is delightful. The film is in color — which is certainly a departure from the classic films noir of the 1940s — but Hopper layers in the feel of film noir with that hot, bluesy soundtrack, the Texas sun baking Johnson in his short-sleeve shirts and ties, and toasty breezes blowing through Madsen's hair.

This is a definite Joe Bob Briggs film in terms of numbers of breasts seen and Johnson's pale tush, and it's all plot- and atmosphere-driven. There's also a fair amount of hand-to-hand violence and quite a bit of sex. Yes, it's rated R.

Film noir isn't for everyone -- it seldom makes a dime at the box office these days -- but this film is a fine addition to the genre.

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Soundtrack CD at

See cast, credit and other details about "The Hot Spot" at Internet Movie Data Base.