The Reservoir Dogs had their day at the Tribeca Film Festival‘s 25th anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino‘s blistering 1992 debut feature. All the surviving members of Joe Cabot’s doomed crew of diamond thieves — Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), and Mr. Brown (Tarantino) — reunited on the stage of New York’s famed Beacon Theater. (Cabot himself, sadly, wasn’t in attendance as his alter ego, veteran character actor Lawrence Tierney, passed away in 2002. Other fallen Dogs include Edward Bunker and Chris Penn, who died in 2005 and 2006, respectively.) With the ever-loquacious Tarantino holding court, the cast and their director reminisced about a movie that’s been a pop culture mainstay for two decades and counting. Here are five things we learned about Reservoir Dogs straight from the mouths of the men who made it.
Mr. White Could Have Been Mr. Blonde
Thanks to a series of only-in-Hollywood connections, Tarantino managed to get his script into Keitel’s hands in the hopes that the Mean Streets star would agree to play veteran crook Larry Dimmick, a.k.a. Mr. White. And while Keitel responded to that role, he also thought it would be a blast to play psychopathic ex-con, Vic Vega, a.k.a. Mr. Blonde, a part eventually played by his Thelma & Louise co-star Madsen. “I liked that part, but I didn’t think I could play it,” Keitel admitted during the panel. According to Tarantino, Keitel wasn’t the only actor who contemplated switching roles. For example, Madsen thought he’d better suited to Buscemi’s part as the sarcastic Mr. Pink. “I read all of Mr. Pink’s scenes,” Madsen said. “Quentin let me do it even though I was already Mr. Blonde. I thought I did a great job, but Quentin looked at me and said, ‘You’re not Mr. Pink, you’re Mr. Blonde.'” Meanwhile, Tarantino almost replaced himself as Mr. Brown with… Tom Waits? “I had Tom Waits come in and read the Madonna speech just so I could hear him read it!”
The Ear Scene Freaked Out a Master of Horror
Reservoir Dogs isn’t technically a horror movie, but the scene where Vic Vega separates LAPD officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) from his ear almost inspires bigger screams than anything in Scream… as Wes Craven himself found out. While touring film festivals with Dogs, Tarantino found himself presenting the film at a horror festival that was also screening Peter Jackson’s notorious bloodbath, Dead Alive. “‘Finally, I’ve got an audience that won’t walk out,'” the director remembered thinking at the time. Walkouts had been an issue for the movie since its world premiere at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, with viewers inevitably leaving in droves when Vega provides Nash with some impromptu, and involuntary, ear reduction surgery. Even at a horror festival, that moment turned some stomachs, generating five walkouts, including, it turned out, Craven, who had been in the audience. “The guy who did The Last House on the Left walked out!” Tarantino marveled.
Madsen’s No Killer (or Dancer)
Slicing an ear off of a cop wasn’t a dealbreaker for Madsen when he landed the part of Mr. Blonde. But Tarantino discovered the actor’s limits during a rehearsal session of the infamous torture scene. “I played the cop and improvised the line, ‘I have a little kid at home,'” the director said. “Michael had just had his son, so that f—d him up! He was like, ‘I won’t f—king do it if he’s got a kid.'” In the finished film, of course, Nash does plead for his life by mentioning his child, so Madsen managed to leap over that particular hurdle. But up until the very last moment, he wasn’t sure if he could pull off one very specific thing that the script asked him to do: dance. “In the script, it said, ‘Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around,'” Madsen revealed. “I kept thinking, ‘What the f–k does that mean?'” The actor had managed to avoid dancing throughout rehearsals, but finally had to face the music when it came time to shoot the sequence. “Quentin played the song [“Stuck in the Middle With You”] on set; that was the first time [I heard it]. The music started and I was like, ‘Oh f–k, I’ve got to do something!’ We filmed it three times, and that was it.”
The Sundance Premiere Inspired Howls… of Frustration
When Reservoir Dogs was first unleashed upon Sundance in January 1992, it caused quite a stir…but not because of what was happening onscreen. “The first screening was a disaster,” Tarantino said, rattling off the list of technical snafus that almost doomed his movie. “They didn’t have a Scope lens for the projector, and it’s a Scope movie, so it looked like copper all the way through. That would be bad enough, but then it gets to the climax where everyone’s yelling at each other and all of a sudden the lights come up! They bring the lights down again, and then everyone has their guns pointed at everyone else. Right at the height of that scene, there’s a power outage! I went, ‘OK, this is what it’s like to watch your movie in public.'”
Tarantino Wanted to Reach the Grindhouse and the Art House
Reservoir Dogs was made during an era when video stores still existed and were filled with dime a dozen direct-to-VHS crime pictures. As a former video shelf jockey himself, Tarantino wanted to ensure that his movie avoided that fate. “I didn’t want Reservoir Dogs to be a straight-to-video genre movie. I wanted it to be a genre-based art film like Blood Simple.” One way he accomplished that was by casting British actor Tim Roth, who had recently appeared in two art-house hits, Vincent & Theo and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. “He was a budding art film superstar, so I knew when critics would review [Reservoir Dogs] they would have seen Vincent & Theo and talk about the art film aspect of [my film].” For his part, Roth originally suspected that Dogs would meet the same fate as those art house movies: lots of critical acclaim, but not a big audience—a trajectory that the film has definitely avoided for the past 25 years. “Those films you put in your back pocket and carry through life,” he said. “Reservoir Dogs was actually a shift in my life.”
Read more from Yahoo Movies:
Watch ABC News interview the cast at Tribeca: