Quentin Tarantino is known for being a master at harmonizing incredible filmmaking with fantastic music, and his 1992 film debut Reservoir Dogs shows the beginning of his fine musical work.
The juxtaposition of positive music against negative shots – upbeat music playing against psychotic torture – is something that is used a lot, in trailers and recent films. (like Orinoco Flow in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) But none have executed it so well as Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino had chosen “Stuck in the Middle With You” specifically for this scene, not only does it fit rhythmically but also lyrically.
Mr. White dislikes his heist partner, believing the unpredictable and unprofessional Mr. Blonde to be a “fucking psychopath” because he enjoys violence. For Mr. White, violence is a necessity of the job. For Mr. Blonde, he relishes in it.
Michael Madsen is deliciously and playfully diabolic as Mr. Blonde. He tells the cop how amusing it is for him to torture a cop. He lets him know that even if he prays for a quick death, he won’t get one.
He takes his razor out of his shoes, then switches gears by gleefully asking the cop “You ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies? It’s my personal favorite.” The radio announcer gives an introduction for the Stealers Wheel song as Mr. Blonde goes over and checks out Tim Roth’s character, Mr. Orange. The song starts kicking in.
Mr. Blonde starts his dance routine, really more of a half-assed and mocking shuffle. Madsen executes this perfectly, most actors might choose to go over the top with this, “look how scary I am!” but Mr. Blonde doesn’t really give a shit, he’s just enjoying this, taking his time to prolong his victim’s fears. Kirk Baltz, as Officer Nash, perfectly projects the utter fear and bewilderment his character faces, only through his eyes. He certainly, as the song says, has “got the feeling that something ain’t right”.
The camera has the background spinning around at the closeup of Nash, projecting the frightened thoughts running through his head. The groan that the officer lets out is chilling, especially when it blends in with the upbeat toe-tapping music. The camera and background remains still on the shot of Mr. Blonde dancing, he is calm, cool and collected. This is his favorite thing to do. The dancing delays the unknown but terrifying torture awaiting Officer Nash.
Then a sudden break in dancing as Mr. Blonde violently slashes the Officer’s face, then grabs him as the camera glides away. The camera holds on the warehouse as we hear the officer’s screaming off screen, allowing the audience to imagine what kind of violence is happening. (Such restraint is not always shown in other Tarantino films, but it was a very good choice here.)
Madsen enters the frame, and we see him holding the Officer’s ear. And, in true Mr. Blonde fashion, he laughs and makes jokes, talks into the severed ear “Can you hear that?” We then follow Mr. Blonde from the warehouse to his car and back into the warehouse in one continuous shot.
We then follow Mr. Blonde as he walks outside. The music fades away the farther he gets from it, but we still hear other jovial background noise like kids laughing. It’s frightening that no one can hear the agonizing terror going on inside. Mr. Blonde walks back in, holding gasoline. We know the next torture waiting for the officer. He enters the warehouse and we hear the music again. Tarantino really did time exactly, that part of the song would’ve been heard exactly in the time it took to come back inside!
Mr. Blonde dances some more, the camera starts to circle around the two characters as he splashes the gasoline on Officer Nash, some of it hitting the camera. We are so close to them, the camerawork really makes us feel “stuck in the middle” with them. Mr. Blonde pulls the tape off and Officer Nash starts screaming, pleading for his life. The line about him having children was ad-libbed, and apparently made Michael Madsen, a new father at the time, have to stop the scene overcome with emotion.
And then, just as Mr. Blonde is about to light the flame, he gets shot. The camera cuts to Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, gunning Mr. Blonde down. This is one of the best surprises in film, leaving you utterly shocked. Throughout the scene, you forget Mr. Orange is even there.
Between the song and the violence and Mr. Blonde’s dancing, you are completely swept up in that action. To top it off with Mr. Orange’s hiding-in-plain sight reveal, this scene leaves you stunned.
Watch it below!