Movie Talk

Five Film Facts for the 20th Anniversary of ‘Reservoir Dogs’

Movie Talk

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Photo: Miramax

"Reservoir Dogs" is, believe it or not, 20 years old. Quentin Tarantino's crime thriller about a simple jewelry store heist that goes horrifically wrong hit the indie film world like a shot of adrenalin to the heart. It was smart, funny, savage and, at the time, shockingly violent. None other than horror director Wes Craven walked out of an early screening of the movie because he found the flick too distressing. After "Reservoir Dogs," black suits and skinny ties, disjointed storytelling and hyper-literate rants about movies and pop culture became for better or worse, cool. Without "Dogs," it's hard to imagine "The Usual Suspects," "In Bruges" and, of course, "Pulp Fiction" getting made.

If you're eager to catch the movie on the widescreen, you're in luck. It was just announced that "Reservoir Dogs" along with "Pulp Fiction" will hit the theaters once again this December, just in time for Tarantino's next release, "Django Unchained."

So put on some K-Billy's "Super Sounds of the Seventies" and check out these five facts about the flick.

The Title

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Au Revoir Les Enfants

'Au Revoir Les Enfants' (Photo: Everett Collection)

The movie's title is something of a puzzle since there are no dogs or reservoirs anywhere to be seen or mentioned. It reportedly goes back to Tarantino's days working as a clerk in a video store. He so perpetually mangled the pronunciation of Louis Malle's "Au Revoir Les Enfants" that he took to calling it "The Reservoir Movie."  Add to that the second word of Sam Peckinpah's notorious flick "Straw Dogs" and voila, you have one memorable and mysterious movie title.

[Related: Indie Roundup: 'Holy Motors']

The Ear Scene

No doubt the most memorable and disturbing scene in the movie is when Mr. Blonde slices off the ear of Officer Nash. The scene was so disturbing that Mr. Blonde himself Michael Madsen had trouble completing the scene, especially after Kirk Baltz as the hapless cop ad-libbed a line about having a kid at home. Madsen was a recent father at the time and the thought of orphaning a child hit him hard. Of course, Tarantino had originally planned the shot to be much bloodier than what ended up in the final cut. The crew shot several takes that showed the ear actually getting cut off, complete with spurting blood, but just one where the camera pans away, the shot that was ultimately used. As anyone who's ever watched the shower scene in "Psycho" knows, not seeing an act of violence is sometimes much more disturbing than seeing it.

The Casting

George Clooney was reportedly up for the part of Mr. Blonde but didn't get it because, as he said in an interview, he blew the audition. He wasn't the only star to try out for the movie. David Duchovny auditioned for the movie and Samuel L. Jackson was considered for Mr. Orange.   But the star who Tarantino really wanted was James Woods.  His agent declined without telling the actor because the project couldn't meet Woods' salary requirements. Later, when Woods learned about the offer, he fired the agent.

The Homage

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City on Fire

Chow Yun-Fat in 'City on Fire' (Photo: Everett Collection)

Soon after "Reservoir Dogs" came out, sharp-eyed cinephiles noticed a lot of similarities between the movie and the Hong Kong cop thriller "City on Fire."  That movie, directed by Ringo Lam and stars Chow Yun-Fat, is about an undercover cop who participates in a botched robbery of a jewelry store. The fallout from the diamond heist results in the cop getting shot in the stomach, a bunch of Mexican stand-offs, and a tearful confession that ends in death. And just so you don't think that the similarities between the two movies are some unlikely coincidence, Quentin Tarantino has stated that he's "loved City on Fire," and that he even thanked Chow Yun-Fat in the script. This had many irate film nerds crying "plagiarism" while others would call it a homage.

The Connections

Many of Tarantino's movies are connected in the same violent and verbose universe.  And it's not just the pervasiveness of Red Apple brand cigarettes. During a flashback, Joe asked Mr. White about a girl named Alabama.  Yep, that's the same Alabama as Patricia Arquette's character in "True Romance."  Mr. Blonde, whose real name is Vic Vega, is brothers with Vincent Vega, the long-haired junky killer played by John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction." But wait, this is also the same universe as "Inglourious Basterds." You know, the world where WWII was brought to an end after Hitler was killed in a hail of bullets in a movie theater.  One of the guys who pulled the trigger, Sgt. Donny Donowitz AKA "The Bear Jew," is the father of film producer Lee Donowitz from "True Romance."  Stay tuned for what kind of alterna-history Tarantino dreams up for his antebellum South potboiler "Django Unchained."

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