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Small Details You Missed In Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs blew the audiences of 1992 away with its kinetic mix of pulpy violence and pop-culture-heavy dialogue. Ostensibly a crime caper about a jewelry heist gone wrong, the film subverts the genre — the heist, pointedly, is never seen — and becomes an examination of trust and honor among thieves. The indie flick became director Quentin Tarantino's calling card, and a springboard to bigger roles for actors such as Tim Roth (Rob Roy, Lie to Me), Michael Madsen (Donnie Brasco), Steve Buscemi (Fargo), and Chris Penn (Mobsters). Many of these performers would appear in later Tarantino projects such as Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill saga, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood. 

What makes this film so special? According to Tarantino, reflecting on the film's 10th anniversary, it's the movie's sense of humor mixed with its overarching suspense: "I love playing with an audience and conducting an audience's response. I love getting people to laugh at things that they would never laugh at ... and then I get you." Whatever the secret ingredient, Reservoir Dogs remains a thrilling film more than 20 years after its release. In fact, it still contains a boatload of small details you've likely never noticed. We're here to take a look at the best of them.

Who's true blue?

During the film's famously chatty opening scene, our band of criminals wrap up breakfast before the heist while Mr. Brown (Tarantino) holds court with a theory about the meaning behind Madonna's "Like a Virgin." The others jump in with their knowledge of the singer's catalog — "Once she got into her 'Papa Don't Preach' phase, I don't know, I tuned out," says Mr. Blue. Then Mr. Orange says his first line: "Which one is True Blue?" The question refers to Madonna's 1986 album, which deals with her feelings for then-husband Sean Penn, Chris Penn's brother. This isn't just a fun nod to one of the assembled actors, however — It has a double meaning that forms the crux of the movie. Which of these guys is "true blue"? Who will betray them? As Orange speaks, the camera circles behind him, seated to Brown's right, so the audience doesn't get a good look at the guy asking the question. As the story unfolds however, viewers discover that Orange is an undercover cop.

You callin' my name?

During a flashback about Mr. Blonde, the audience learns the character's full name when an employee tells crime boss Joe Cabot that Vic Vega is there to see him. Fresh off a four-year stint in prison, Vic is on the prowl for some real work, and Cabot's son, "Nice Guy" Eddie, would love to have him join the heist crew. "You know he's reliable, and you damn well trust him," Eddie says. 

For audiences in 1992, Vega would have been just another surname, chosen for whatever reason by the screenwriter. But 1994's Pulp Fiction teased a connection between Tarantino characters when it introduced Vincent Vega, another dark-haired gun for hire. Vic and Vincent are in fact brothers, and, as Vic's actor Michael Madsen told Thrillist in 2014, he and Tarantino discussed exploring a story about the siblings that ultimately never came together. Hear that, Marvel? We've been enjoying the Tarantino Cinematic Universe since 1992!

Colorful subtext

The heist, as any fan knows, goes south, and Orange gets shot in the belly while he and White make their escape. White takes him back to a warehouse where the men had previously agreed to rendezvous, and the first cohort to arrive is Pink. Because Orange is in excruciating pain, White and Pink step into an adjacent room to discuss what's happened. Here, Pink proposes that the crew must have a rat in their midst, because the cops arrived at the jewelry exchange too soon for one of the workers to have pressed an alarm. As White processes this and the two discuss Blonde's quick trigger finger, colored containers on the counter in the background hint at who alerted the police. The pink and white bottles are together, just like Pink and White are at the moment, while the orange bottles are apart, just like Orange is separate from them in the next room.

Men in the mirror

Reservoir Dogs has plenty of braggadocio, but it's not all swagger and flash. The relationship between White and Orange, for example, is the emotional core of the film. White, a seasoned criminal, takes a liking to the younger man he has no idea is a cop, comforting Orange after he's shot and protectively calling Orange "a good kid." Yet both characters show a wavering trust in themselves — a vulnerability that is revealed when they look in the mirror. 

During the scene where White talks with Pink in the adjacent room, White splashes water on his face and combs his hair, confessing that he walked away from an earlier heist where a team member turned out to be an undercover cop. "I swear to God, I think I'm f***ing jinxed," he says, addressing Pink but looking at himself. Orange's heart-to-heart comes during a flashback before he meets the crew for the heist. On his way out the door, he stops before the mirror, looks himself in the eye, and tries to bolster his confidence: "They don't know. They don't know s***. You're not gonna get hurt ... They believe every f***ing word 'cause you're super cool." This repeated visual symbolism isn't just clever — it's emotionally resonant.

Band on the hand

Before meeting the crew the day of the heist, Orange rifles through a bunch of spare change to fish out a wedding band to wear. It's a quiet character moment that spurs viewers into wondering if he has a marriage in his past, or if this is a keepsake for other, murkier reasons. After all, he remembers the ring after putting one gun in his boot holster and another in his coat pocket — far more real protection compared to the wedding ring. In comparison, it's "some kind of superstitious gesture of defense," according to writer Kim Manners. 

Good luck charm or tragic memento, the ring is definitely part of Orange's cover. He wears it only in the scenes when he's talking with the heist crew, but not with Holdaway, who helps prepare him for the job. The ring also hits on the film's central theme of trust. By its very nature, Manners noted, a wedding band "represents trust, loyalty, commitment. And yet, there it is, floating in a pile of nearly worthless loose change, as valuable as about 67 cents." Orange might look and act the part of a criminal, but he's ultimately not one of the gang.

Coffins await

Among the many filming locations used for Reservoir Dogs was a mortuary warehouse in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The crew refers to the building onscreen simply as a "warehouse," but it's tough to ignore the funereal undertones. For one thing, Blonde sits atop a hearse covered in plastic. What's more, four wrapped objects in the background are recognizable as coffins — with the hearse in frame and very little else lying around, it's impossible not to realize what they are. As Reservoir Dogs was made on a budget of $1.2 million, Tarantino likely used whatever locations and props he could find. The production used Madsen's own Cadillac as Blonde's car to save money, at the actor's suggestion: "I had driven it to work that day," he told Thrillist, and added that he still has it. Cost-cutting measures are smart film-making, and besides, the setting is on-theme: It telegraphs that absolutely no one here gets out alive.

The professionals

Pink repeatedly talks about dealing with the situation "like a professional," but one moment roughly 50 minutes into the film speaks to the professionalism of the actors themselves. During a lengthy scene where the guys recap for Eddie what happened during the heist, the building's outer door swings open. Cool as a cucumber, White walks over and closes it while the dialogue continues. No one breaks character. This is remarkable, as the door opening was not planned.

According to Kirk Baltz, who plays Marvin Nash, the cop bound to a chair in the scene in question, this sort of thing was a common occurrence. "Harvey's talking to Chris, and suddenly, the door at the other end ... flops open, and Harvey was able to walk — it must be 15 yards at least, a good 30 feet — to the other side of the space, shut the door, and come back into the scene and keep the scene going," Baltz recalled on the DVD commentary. "There were continually moments like that where everyone's work was so good, and it really was like we were on a stage together."

A marvelous frame of reference

Orange's character gets the most development throughout Reservoir Dogs, from his wardrobe on and off the job to the backstory he rehearses so he won't default to his own. His apartment is full of illuminating details as well, such as his taste for sugary cereal and superhero comics, particularly ones published by Marvel. A Silver Surfer poster hangs on his wall in a few shots — a reference that also acts as an homage to 1983's Breathless, in which Richard Gere's character reads many Silver Surfer stories. Later, in describing the bald and imposing Joe Cabot to Holdaway, Orange doesn't bring up infamous gangster John Dillinger, whom actor Lawrence Tierney played in a 1945 film, but turns instead to the Fantastic Four, remarking that the crime boss looks like The Thing. Right after this line, a shot of the ringing phone on the coffee table in Orange's apartment shows action figures of The Thing and Iron Man among the clutter.

A miscounted crew

Before Joe Cabot assigns the crew their colorful aliases, he warns them against confiding in each other or sharing any personal information. That includes their real names, their families, where they've done time, and other jobs they've pulled. "Five guys sitting in a bullpen in San Quentin, wondering how the f*** they got there," he says. "What did we do wrong? What should we have done? What didn't we do? It's your fault, my fault, his fault." But there are six men involved in the heist sitting before him, not counting his son, "Nice Guy" Eddie. Considering Cabot rattles off the aliases as he points to each man — Mr. Brown, Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Orange, and Mr. Pink — the actor apparently misspoke. But Orange being undercover adds an interesting layer to this. Had they all survived, the five crooks might well have pointed fingers just as Cabot predicted.

A lovely shoutout

Pam Grier, who first rose to fame in the 1970s as the star of action films such as Coffy and Foxy Brown, gets an extended shout-out as "Nice Guy" Eddie, White, Pink, and Orange ride to their meeting with Cabot before the heist. Discussing tough women who take no guff, Eddie relates an anecdote involving an attractive woman who works in one of his father's clubs, saying she resembles Pam Grier from a TV show. Orange interjects, explaining that Pam Grier starred in films, not TV shows. The show to which Eddie's referring, Get Christie Love!, starred someone else. None of the guys can recall the name of the actress, but for what it's worth, they're discussing Teresa Graves of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. This chit-chat about Grier is an affectionate nod to a woman Tarantino admires, and whom he would spotlight as the main character in the 1997 crime thriller, Jackie Brown.

Super soundtrack of the seventies

The Reservoir Dogs soundtrack has no original compositions: It is composed entirely of songs that already existed. And boy, does it make them notable: 1972's "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel is forever linked to the infamous scene in which Blonde tortures Officer Nash by slicing off his ear. Tarantino, who has an extensive vinyl collection, told Rolling Stone that he was open to using another song for that particular moment, but he tried Stealers Wheel during auditions, and it stuck: "The first time somebody actually did the torture scene to that song, the guy didn't even have a great audition, but it was like watching the movie. I was thinking, 'Oh my God, this is gonna be awesome!'" Writer-producer Roger Avary, who shares a screenwriting Oscar with Tarantino for Pulp Fiction, also shares writing credit in Reservoir Dogs for the dialogue of the DJ hosting the "Super Sounds of the Seventies" weekend accompanying the action. Astute listeners will recognize the voice of DJ K-Billy as that of deadpan comedian Steven Wright.

Confessions of honor

The camaraderie between White and Orange adds poignancy to Reservoir Dogs' bloody finale. Two confessions are made, in which both men say things they know they shouldn't — a sentiment that Tarantino describes on the DVD commentary as "beyond honor, with a little bit of humanity in there." Audiences learn that White's real name is Larry as White drives the wounded Orange to the warehouse. "All this blood's scaring the s*** outta me, Larry, I'm gonna die. I know it," Orange says. Telling Orange his first name complicates bringing the wounded man to a hospital, but it was something that White felt compelled to do to comfort him. He also holds the younger man when Orange says he's scared and whispers something that actually makes Orange laugh. White is no font of compassion: He kills a few cops, "no real people," in front of Orange. But because of the older man's trust and loyalty, Orange can't help but level with him at the film's end once White gets shot, too. "I'm a cop. Larry, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he says, knowing the truth will kill him.