The Hot Spot (1990): Is Located Between Jennifer Connelly and Virginia Madsen

The scorching heat of summer is truly upon us. Yesterday, here at The Lair, it reached 106 degrees, and there’s no relief in sight. However, I must count my blessings. I generally get to stay in the confines of an air conditioned area, I don’t live somewhere crazy, stupid hot like Texas, and I’m not caught in a love triangle between Jennifer Connelly and Virginia Madsen. Wait, scratch that last one. No matter the external temperature, a situation like that would surely heat me up. Though when you’re Don Johnson, riding high on the star power garnered from six seasons of the pastel hued Miami Vice, you can afford to act blasé about two of the hottest women to ever grace the screen vying for your affections. While the onscreen sexy time is only one portion of today’s film, The Hot Spot, it definitely heats up a cool noir story from director Dennis Hopper. 

"You know, you remind me of the babe."
Harry Madox (Don Johnson) is a drifter who saunters into a small Texas town. After fast talking his way into a job at a used car dealership, he finds himself smitten with the young, chaste accountant Gloria (Jennifer Connelly). Harry, however, becomes an object of obsession for the boss’ wild wife Dolly (Virginia Madsen), and finds himself caught between the virginal Gloria and the whorish Dolly. Meanwhile, after noticing the bank clears out during a fire due to all the tellers being volunteer firemen, Harry begins to form a plan to rob the bank in broad daylight. The daring robbery pays off, but when Dolly provides Harry an alibi, he becomes beholden to her. As Dolly blackmails Harry, Harry continues to romance Gloria, but the innocent brunette has a secret in her past as well. As the web of lies and secrets begins to grow, the action heats up as it reaches a boiling point. 

It's not a Noir if someone doesn't sit on the edge
of a bed and have a smoke.
The script for The Hot Spot, based off Charles Williams’ book Hell Hath No Fury, was originally written in 1962, by Williams, and intended to star Robert Mitchum. There is no doubt in my mind that Mitchum would have been brilliant in the role, and if somehow his costars could have still been Jennifer and Virginia, then that would have been perfect. The un-produced script was found in the late 80s by Dennis Hopper, and after a slight update by first time screenwriter Nona Tyson, The Hot Spot finally made it to the screen. For me, Hopper has always been something of a mystery as a director. Taking away his seminal first film, Easy Rider, his directing career is dotted with failures (The Last Movie, Chasers) and high minded ideas that don’t quite make it (Colors, Out of the Blue). The Hot Spot falls somewhat into the latter category and rises slightly above, but it remains overlong and over the top in parts. The Hot Spot does garner a real style from the sun drenched cinematography of Ueli Steiger (Singles, The Day After Tomorrow) that hits a great balance with the darkly Noir storyline. This dichotomy makes the Texas setting important to the story, and it keeps the film from being stereotypical Neo-Noir. 

Virginia Madsen: Shaving Innovator
According to Dennis Hopper, Don Johnson arrived on The Hot Spot set, in a helicopter no less, with two bodyguards, a cook, his own make-up person, and his own hair stylist. His hair really deserved its own credit as it was absolutely perfectly messy in every scene. Johnson, for his part, is a better actor than I recall from Miami Vice, but he takes the hard, cold man thing too far. Unlike Mitchum, who the role was intended for, it doesn’t seem to come naturally. Hopper later criticized Johnson by claiming that the actor said he wouldn’t promote the film until the reviews came in, but Don countered that he was too busy making Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man to do press for the film. Virginia Madsen, who most know from Sideways but I associate with Candyman, shunned the film because, again from Hopper’s recollection, she was embarrassed by the amount of time she was nude in the film. Personally, I could have stood for a little more nude, but that’s just me. Madsen played a great femme fatale, and from her curly blonde hair down to her snappy dialog, she was every inch a dangerous woman not to be trifled with.

The Bugg Pasties Are Back!
The Hot Spot also has the special distinction of being the only film in which you can behold Jennifer Connelly in her naked glory. Though the scene is brief, if you’re like me and you’ve been in love/lust with Connelly since Labyrinth (or Phenomena), then that by itself is probably enough to make you check the film out. Connelly’s overall performance is tempered, and while she comes off sweet and innocent, her Gloria also seems a bit boring in comparison to Madsen’s alluring Dolly. The Hot Spot also features some great supporting parts from character actor mainstays William Sadler, Charles Martin Smith, Jerry Hardin, Barry Corbin, and Leon Rippy. There is also a killer soundtrack to the film which ranges from Noir style jazz to k.d. lang and Billy Squire. The film score was penned by Jack Nietzsche (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Cruisin’) and featured a historic collaboration between jazz legend Miles Davis, blues master John Lee Hooker, and guitar virtuoso Roy Rogers. 

Where the F@#k is Tubbs when I need him?
While The Hot Spot succeeds in bringing the flavor of both Charles Williams’ book and Film Noir to the screen, it takes its time doing it. Clocking in at two hours and ten minutes, The Hot Spot feels bloated. With a judicious cut, the pacing of the film could have been improved, and the whole affair cut down to increase tension. That being said, I quite enjoyed what The Hot Spot had to offer, and I’m not just talking about Madsen and Connelly in the buff. (Admittedly, that didn’t hurt.) While I think Hopper should have considered doing the piece in period, as his small Texas town seems to still exist in the 40s or 50s save for the cars and a strip club filled with big haired and g-stringed gals, The Hot Spot is a good example of how the style can be updated. While it doesn’t succeed like the more recent films Brick and The Killer Inside Me, The Hot Spot takes a cool story, some sexy ladies, and a callous hero and spins a tragic tale full of blackmail, murder, and sex and heats it all up until the temperature outside feels downright reasonable.

Bugg Rating


  1. Yes, in 1990 my friends and I rented this strictly because of the topless Jennifer Connelly. High school love, it's so sweet.

  2. I like to revisit The Hot Spot now and then. It brings back good memories of hanging out with friends late at night, munching on snacks, and taking a virtual vacation in Texas.

    Agree the editing could have been better. I can't imagine seeing a "Director's Cut" one day. That would make me yawn a few times.


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