28 years of Reservoir Dogs: The harmonised outpour of evil in Mr Blonde’s torture scene
Actor Michael Madsen, who played Mr. Blonde in the Tarantino classic, recently starred as Police Chief Richard Dawkins in Amazon Prime's Silence (Nishabdham)
Even after 28 years since the theatrical release of Quentin Tarantino's debut classic Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Blonde's torture scene from the movie remains one of the most memorable and iconic scenes in the director's long and celebrated career. This scene has created such an everlasting impact on the minds of the audience that when it was announced that Michael Madsen, who played Mr. Blonde, was to play a role in the trilingual Indian film, Silence (Nishabdham in Telugu), fans couldn’t resist reminiscing about the scene from the film that was released in 1992. However, after the release of the Hemant Madhukar-directorial on Amazon Prime Video, many took to social media to criticise the character of Richard Dawkins, a police chief that Madsen portrayed in the crime-thriller. Those who have watched Madsen's previous films blamed the lack of depth in the character, rather than the performance of the actor. This is again not surprising when one thinks about Madsen's scene from Reservoir Dogs.
What makes this particular scene so important in a film that already has a very compelling screenplay that shifts between the planning and the aftermath of a botched bank heist? It has a song playing on the radio, a man dancing in front of a cop, a charming walk, a tap here and a tap there – in tune with the beats of the song. Sounds rather harmless? Now imagine him holding a shaving blade and the cop is tied to a chair. That makes it a bit more menacing. But what makes it truly evil?
To get to that, one has to go back to the very first scene of the movie; Tarantino was setting up the scene right from the beginning. A gang of criminals, sitting around a table at a café, engages in a conversation about music. As their close-ups are shown, each has something to add to the conversation. In the first shot that we see of Mr. Blonde (aka Vic Vega), he jokes about killing Mr. White and rubs his hands together with a smirk on his lips. In the second close-up, he’s mimicking a gunshot, pointing towards Mr. White. While this can be dismissed as a harmless joke between a few criminals, Tarantino is in fact subtly foreshadowing something about Mr. Blonde – that he’s a narcissistic psychopath who likes the taste of blood.
Post the heist, Mr. Pink and Mr. White go through the details of the mayhem and the former points out that even before the cops showed up at the scene, Mr. Blonde went on a shooting spree, killing innocent workers at the bank. Mr. White calls it the most insane thing he's ever seen and later even refers to Mr. Blonde as a madman and a psychopath. He says, "A psychopath ain't a professional. I can't work with a psychopath. You don't know what those sick a****** are gonna do next."
Maybe Vic Vega is not as professional as his brother, Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction. As one can see later, this statement from Mr. White is a true measure of the sadistic nature of Mr. Blonde.
As the conversation between Mr. White and Mr. Pink heats up, there is a scuffle and they end up pointing guns at each other. The camera zooms out, only to show an unfazed Mr. Blonde, sporting a sunglass, sipping a cola, and watching two of his colleagues brawling. For somebody who just survived a messed up bank heist, he’s quite okay. In fact, he seems more than just all right. He sees them aiming guns at each other and says, "You kids shouldn't play so rough. Somebody's going to start crying," as he slowly sips his cola. Not a line any old character would say with such a bloody scene in front of him.
These are glimpses of the character, but the whole reveal is yet to come. Blonde tells Pink and White that he has a big “surprise” for them and opens the trunk of his car to reveal that he has kidnapped a cop, Marvin Nash, after the heist. The excitement he displays while revealing the surprise is subtle, yet visible enough.
Pink starts punching the cop to get the truth about the spy, and Blonde just sits and laughs, probably thinking, "These guys don't know how to torture a man." When Eddie arrives, Blonde justifies opening fire at the bank by saying, “I don't like alarms, Mr. White” – a key to why he likes to torture cops, as he puts it himself later on. As they get ready to leave the warehouse, White has reservations about leaving Marvin and a passed out Mr. Orange there with Blonde. “He is a f*****g psycho." Again, White foreshadows what was bound to happen.
The minute the rest of them leave, Blonde tells the cop, "Alone at last." As if he was yearning for it. As if he's been thinking only about it since the time he picked him up. Marvin replies that he can torture him all he wants, but he doesn't know anything. Blonde's immediate reaction? "That's a good idea. I like that one."
He pats off a speck of dust from his pant and after a couple of quick jabs, he wipes the blood off his hand. Quite ironic, given how bloody the place becomes later on. This same sadistic irony is seen in other cinematic psycho-killers, like the ones in American Psycho and the Hannibal series.
When the cop refers to Eddie as Blonde’s 'boss', it sets him off. Being the narcissist that he is, this is the final push. He slowly puts out the cigarette he had just lit; he now has something better to do – something he likes more than smoking.
Interrogation is absolutely not what Blonde is up to. He admits he doesn't even care if Marvin knows the truth and that torturing a cop amuses him, all while getting ready to tape his mouth shut.
He can pray for a quick death, Mr. Blonde says, but he isn't going to get it. He takes out his pistol and laughs at the cop struggling to get out of his sight.
Blonde switches on the radio and mentions that he likes ‘K Billy's super sounds of the 70s’ – a radio show that keeps popping up, with a jockey who speaks in a slow, low-pitched voice. This is where one realises that Tarantino was setting up this scene right from the start, as this radio voice begins even before the first fade-in, and plays at the end of every major sequence.
One of the most sadistic, ill-timed coincidences in movie history is when the radio plays Stealer Wheel's Stuck In The Middle With You. Blonde, who's now checking an unconscious Mr. Orange, chuckles at the irony.
The lyrics go, "I don't know why I came here tonight. I got the feeling something ain't right. I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair." – All pointing towards the hostage tied to a chair.
However, the lines that follow — "Clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right" — seem to be talking about Mr. Blonde, who is stuck in the middle and cannot decide whom to torture first: Orange on the left or the cop on his right. Probably because the hostage is conscious, he goes for him.
Blonde’s dance is more than just a charming shake-a-leg. He takes a step in, a step back, and a walk full of swag. The character of Blonde itself seems to touch upon the traits of famous American serial killer Ted Bundy, who lured his victims using his charms and his innocent looks. Blonde’s charming demeanour and polite speech may be the reason why his true face evaded Eddie, Joe and the rest of the crew. However, Blonde doesn’t hide his true intentions once he is in his menacing ‘torture’ space.
It is noteworthy here to mention that actor Michael Madsen improvised the dance and took inspiration from “something that Jimmy Cagney did in a movie.”
Everything Blonde does seem to be coordinated. After a sharp cut to the face, he holds the victim’s face up and pauses for a few seconds wondering what he should do next. Again, the lyrics mirror this: "I'm wondering what it is I should do." It is also a call back to White’s dialogue about not knowing what psychopaths might do next.
And when he proceeds to cut out his ear, the audience can’t see Blonde's face, but the lyrics fill us in: "It's so hard to keep the smile from my face."
Mr. Blonde checks out the severed ear for a whole 10 seconds.
He speaks to the severed ear, "Hey what's going on?" and asks the cop if he heard that. The ear-splitting groans of the cop don’t affect him a bit.
“Don't go anywhere; I'll be right back.” The torture is far from over.
Blonde walks out in the most charismatic way, only to bring a can of gasoline from his car. As he walks into the garage, he continues dancing to the track, before dousing the hostage with the gasoline.
The cop screams and begs him to stop and Blonde casually asks, "Did that burn a little?" He's about to burn him alive and still he amuses himself with sadistic humour.
In a last desperate attempt, the cop says he has kids, but Blonde just flips his lighter before saying, "Have some fire, scarecrow."
Remember the line about his hatred for alarms? Perhaps, in the eyes of Mr. Blonde, who probably had to endure a lot of torture in the prison, cops are like scarecrows that scare away crows — people like him and his colleagues (who all are dressed in black suits) trying to protect the diamonds, or as per this metaphor, a farmer's crop. This one line says a lot about how Mr. Blonde sees the entire system – the police, the bank workers who disobeyed him, etc. In his own deranged, narcissistic mind, the megalomaniac is done with cops having the power and scaring him away. This is the reason why in an earlier scene, when Joe and Nice Guy offer him a phony job at the docks to hide from his parole officer, he declines and asks for a real job (the bank heist).
The lighter is now ablaze, he inches towards dousing him on fire and bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Mr. Orange, who was passed out, wakes up and finishes an entire clip of bullets on Mr. Blonde.
As the audience finds out later, this action brings about the end of Mr. Orange, the spy cop, and eventually, the entire gang. In a way, it was Mr. Orange who was stuck in the middle between clowns and jokers. Either way, he was doomed.
For an actor who didn’t even listen to the soundtrack before the first take (the entire scene took only three takes), Michael Madsen performed the scene of his lifetime.
Fans of Reservoir Dogs can watch Silence (Nishabdham) on Amazon Prime and decide for themselves if the issue with Richard Dawkins is with the writing or the actor.