Quentin Tarantino’s knack for always knowing exactly what song to use at any given moment has paid off handsomely throughout his career. For instance, in this scene, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) turns on the radio, and glides across the slick cement floor, dancing to the Stealer’s Wheel hit “Stuck in the Middle with You”. What happens afterward is arguably one of the most memorable scenes in independent film ever. Mr. Blonde cuts the ear off a whimpering cop with a straight edge razor. The exchange happens entirely off-screen, but that doesn’t stop Mr. Blonde from reveling in glee while he asks the severed appendage “Hey, what’s going on?”
If this selection seems perfect for the scene, it might be because the song itself could have been playing while Tarantino was writing Reservoir Dogs. Take a look at some of the lyrics:
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight.
I got the feeling that something ain’t right.
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
and I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs.
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.
It’s easy enough to recognize that the cop is the man at the center of it all, wondering if he can survive this torturous interrogation. More creative interpretation is required for who the jokers and the clowns are, but the “you” most probably means Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), the rat that Mr. Blonde is trying to get the cop to name. The cop knows that Mr. Orange is undercover and if he casually let that piece of information slip, his ordeal might be over, but he also knows that the cops are outside, just waiting for Joe Cabot to come in. If he says something too early, the whole operation could be for naught.
…Tryin’ to make some sense of it all
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
’till I think that I can’t take anymore.
The cop could blab and make it all go away without anyone blaming him. He has a brother in arms, dying on the warehouse floor, and he himself has no ear and is soaked in gasoline. Two men are dying to protect this ruse, and both know that they can help each other out, but it’s a ruse that must be played to the end. If sense could be made of this situation, only Gerry Rafferty could say. It’s a surreal moment (and Reservoir Dog‘s most memorable) definitely played up by Tarantino’s classic song choice to heighten the over-the-top nature of it all. A scene that suggests that power of cinema, and Mr. Tarantino’s own musical acumen.