A shoe-string budget, a bunch of sharp suits, and a jaunty soundtrack was all Quentin Tarantino needed to revolutionise filmmaking back in 1992. His feature-length debut Reservoir Dogs made a permanent mark on pop culture that year and instantly established the former video store clerk as cinema’s new king of cool.
Most acclaimed directors gain the world’s attention gradually, quietly churning out indie gold before landing a big break, but not Tarantino. The auteur’s maiden theatrical offering exploded him into the mainstream, shocking the Sundance and Cannes festivals to their core and courting acclaim and controversy at every turn from there.
Reservoir Dogs is often cited as one of the greatest heist movies of all time, which is quite the accomplishment considering its heist takes place entirely off screen, but it’s the soundtrack which made it truly iconic.
Recycling forgotten retro tunes would become a staple of the filmmaker’s output going forward, and it’s the way he uses these tracks which set his movies apart. Those already familiar with Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” would never interpret the folk-rock number in the same way again after seeing it punctuate a grisly torture scene.
While Reservoir Dogs caused a stir in ’92, it’s still capable of delivering shocks and surprises today, almost 26 years later, if you take a deep dive into the making of the movie and explore the secrets its cast and crew have since revealed.
With this in mind, here are the 15 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Reservoir Dogs.
15. It Took Only 35 Days To Shoot
Debut features can be a nightmare to shoot. First-time directors don’t always know what they’re doing, so trial and error is called for to perfect each scene, but this wasn’t the case with Reservoir Dogs.
Tarantino is clearly a man who had expert knowledge of movies long before he made one.
He knew what he wanted and was able to set it in celluloid in just 35 days.
Reservoir Dogs was never going to be the most complex movie to film. Most of it takes places within the confines of a warehouse — hence why it has proven so ripe for stage adaptation over the years.
14. The “Stuck In The Middle With You” Dance Was Improvised
When Reservoir Dogs was unleashed on the unsuspecting festival circuit in 1992, there was one scene that nobody could stop talking about: the torture sequence.
Michael Madsen’s brutal ear-severing is offset against an upbeat soundtrack, creating an unsettling sense of dissonance that was too much for some audience members to handle.
It’s arguably the most famous scene in the movie, and it was completely improvised. Mr. Blonde’s disturbingly casual dance moves were made up by Madsen — who only listened to the Stealers Wheel track for the first time when the sequence was being shot — on the spot.
The script simply called for his character to “maniacally dance around,” which he did spontaneously across three takes.
13. Tarantino Almost Played Mr. Pink
The Reservoir Dogs cast was reshuffled several times before Tarantino was satisfied that everyone had the part that they were best suited for, and it turns out that he didn’t cast himself in the most appropriate role the first time around.
The director eventually played Mr. Brown, but was originally down as Mr. Pink, the only member of the heist crew to make it through to the end credits alive. Steve Buscemi was eventually assigned this role.
One thing that can be gleaned from Tarantino’s role swap is that he was eager to deliver the “Like a Virgin” speech from the opening scene himself. The original script had Mr. Pink waxing lyrical about the Madonna song, but when the director’s part changed, it was rewritten as dialogue for Mr. Brown.
12. Lawrence Tierney Was A Nightmare On Set
It’s a minor miracle that Tarantino was able to film Reservoir Dogs in just 35 days, considering how many problems Lawrence Tierney caused him on set. The actor, who played mob boss Joe Cabot, is said to have been a toxic influence throughout the shoot.
When Tierney wasn’t scuffling with Michael Madsen, he was repeatedly fluffing his lines and complaining about the intense heat on the warehouse set.
At one point, the actor almost came to blows with Tarantino when the director was forced to step in to break up an altercation between Tierney and another cast member.
Although the heat on the Reservoir Dogs set was almost unbearable, by all accounts, Tarantino kept a cool head on his shoulders when dealing with Tierney, and merely walked away when the actor’s aggression hit critical mass.
11. Wes Craven Couldn’t Stomach The Torture Scene
If there was one person with a stomach strong enough to hack Reservoir Dogs‘ infamous torture scene, surely it should have been the horror mastermind behind The Last House on the Left and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Wes Craven was acquainted with the movie when it was showcased at the Sitges Horror Film Festival, and Michael Madsen’s razor skills proved too rich even for him.
Walk-outs were a common reaction to this sequence on the festival circuit, with Tarantino once counting 33 of them, but the director wasn’t anticipating any at the horror fest.
Five people ended up making for the exits when the ear depravation began, and one of them was Craven, which speaks volumes about how disturbing Reservoir Dogs is once it starts firing on all cylinders.
10. Tarantino Wanted It To Be A Play
Although Reservoir Dogs blazed a blood-spattered trail for independent cinema in the early 1990s, it almost skipped cinema entirely.
According to Harvey Keitel, who plays Mr. White, Tarantino at one point considered turning his original script into a play, rather than a movie. The actor dropped this bombshell while discussing the movie’s unusually long rehearsal process at its 25th-anniversary bash, held as part of last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
“We had two weeks of rehearsal, which is unheard of in Hollywood,” he explained. “We actually almost went to four, because Quentin thought at one time about doing a play.”
Reservoir Dogs may have skipped the stage back then, but the movie has since been adapted for theatre on more than one occasion, which is hardly surprising since its low-budget ethos makes it a great fit for the medium.
9. Tom Waits Auditioned For A Part
So many huge stars auditioned for a part in Reservoir Dogs and some of the big names that Tarantino turned down might surprise you. Samuel L. Jackson, who would go on to appear in no fewer than six of the director’s movies, was overlooked for the part of Holdaway, and Agent Mulder himself, David Duchovny, was told thanks, but no thanks.
George Clooney and Christopher Walken also read for parts, but perhaps the most unlikely auditionee of all was acclaimed singer Tom Waits.
Tarantino recalled his encounter with the songsmith during the movie’s 25th-anniversary celebrations at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“A lot of really wild people came in and read the parts. Tom Waits came in and read. I had Tom Waits read the Madonna speech, just so I could hear Tom Waits say those lines,” he said. “Actually, other than Harvey, he gave me one of the first profound compliments on the script. No one had ever told me my work was poetic before.”
8. Tarantino Wrote The First Draft In Just Three-And-A-Half Weeks
A script sharper than Mr. Blonde’s razor is one of the key weapons in Reservoir Dog‘s arsenal, and it took Tarantino less time than you might think to get those award-winning words down on the page. The filmmaker penned the first draft in just three-and-a-half weeks, and it spanned 100 pages.
Those who saw this early treatment clamoured to direct the movie, knowing that it had the potential to be something special. Among them was the filmmaker’s friend and collaborator, the late Tony Scott, who was eager to take on the project. Tarantino had other ideas, though, as he was determined to make Reservoir Dogs his directorial debut.
7. Tim Roth Got Stuck In A Pool Of Fake Blood
Compared to most movies, it was smooth sailing for Tarantino and co. during the Reservoir Dogs shoots, but filming did hit a snag when Tim Roth was glued to the floor by a pool of congealed fake blood.
Shooting took place between July and August in Los Angeles, a place which isn’t exactly cool during the summer.
Throw a stuffy warehouse full of searing strobe lights into the mix and Reservoir Dogs was practically filmed in an oven.
This was a major issue for Roth when he was forced to lie in a pool of fake blood for an extended period. The heat made the red stuff solidify, pinning him to the deck.
6. Madonna Refuted The Movie’s Interpretation Of “Like A Virgin”
The best Tarantino characters are compelling to watch even when they’re discussing the most inane things. Take Jules and Vincent’s ramblings about the differences between European and American fast food in Pulp Fiction, for instance.
Reservoir Dogs’ opening scene finds the suited gang analysing the lyrics of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” over breakfast, and Mr. Brown has an, um, interesting take on the song, claiming it’s all about “d***s.”
Like most of the world’s adult population, Madonna has seen the movie and, according to Tarantino, she enjoyed it, but was quick to pour cold water on Mr. Brown’s interpretation of her lyrics.
5. Mr. Blonde Almost Appeared In A Spinoff With Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega
Most Tarantino fans will know that his movies take place within the same universe. Although his characters operate on the same plane of existence, the ties between his movies are subtle, often limited to nothing more than a fictitious brand of cigarettes.
In Reservoir Dogs’ case, it shares DNA with Pulp Fiction since Mr. Blonde — whose real name is Vic Vega — is the brother of Pulp Fiction‘s Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta. Tarantino once revealed plans to bring the siblings together for a spinoff of sorts, but the idea never came to fruition.
It was Madsen who spilt the beans about the project that almost was, discussing the movie’s premise during an interview on the WAA Boston Hill-Man Morning Show.
“I’d be Vic Vega’s twin brother, and [John Travolta would] be Vincent’s twin brother and we’re both on a flight from Los Angeles, having just been released from prison, and neither one of us know that we’re the twin brother of the other one and we’re both on our way back to LA to avenge the death of our brother,” he said.
4. The Actors Wore Their Own Clothes On Set
Reservoir Dogs is just as famous for its wardrobe as it is for its soundtrack. That image of the main cast suited and booted is nothing short of iconic. However, much of what they’re wearing came from the actors’ own closets.
The movie’s budget was initially a piffling $30,000, a figure which rose to $1.5 million when Keitel came on board as producer.
This was still peanuts by Hollywood standards, even in the early 1990s, and costs had to be cut somewhere.
Shooting most of the movie in a warehouse certainly helped, and having the cast provide their own threads was an effective way keep wardrobe spending to a minimum.
3. Edward Bunker Called The Movie “Unrealistic”
Eddie Bunker, who plays Mr. Blue in the movie, has since dubbed Reservoir Dogs “unrealistic,” and he should know what he’s talking about, since his résumé lists “career criminal” alongside “crime writer” and “actor.”
Bunker spent much of the first half of his life in and out of correctional facilities for his part in various robberies, including one not dissimilar to the movie’s botched heist.
He told Empire Magazine that he didn’t buy the movie’s premise, since he would never have considered committing a robbery with five complete strangers.
He also ridiculed the notion of a gang of distinctly dressed men meeting for breakfast in a public place right before a heist. He may have a point, but it doesn’t make the breakfast scene any less epic.
2. The F-Word Is Used 272 Times
Reservoir Dogs’ main cast throw f-bombs back and forth for fun. In fact, the word “f**k” is used no less than 272 times throughout the movie.
This might sound over the top, but it’s nowhere close to being a record. Martin Scorsese is clearly a big fan of the f-word, as he has several movies in the top 20, including the gangster classic Goodfellas with 300 instances and Casino with 422.
Spike Lee’s 1999 offering Summer of Sam held the f-bomb record for a non-documentary movie for a while with 435 instances, until The Wolf of Wall Street came along and used the word a whopping 506 times, which is fitting since the movie is all about excess. Guess who directed it? Yep, Scorsese, again.
1. The First Screening Was A Disaster
Today, Reservoir Dogs is hailed as a seminal masterpiece but it didn’t get off the best start in life. According to Tarantino, its debut screening was an unmitigated disaster.
A man as meticulous as him must have found it difficult to stomach when the masterpiece he shot using scope cameras was screened through a non-scope projector, but he begrudgingly let that slide. The worst part, however, was yet to come.
When it came to the movie’s unforgettable climax, where the main cast have their guns pointed at one another in a Mexican standoff, the power cut out in the cinema.
Talk about bad timing. A botched debut didn’t do any lasting harm to Reservoir Dogs. It was the darling of the 1992 Sundance festival – although it didn’t win any prizes – and is now an undisputed classic.
Can you think of any other interesting facts about Reservoir Dogs? Sound off in the comment section!
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