Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Robert Aldrich's career got a huge boost from
The Longest Yard, made separately
from his "Associates and Aldrich" banner but using many of his old collaborators. His plan was
to keep producing with Burt Reynolds but their teaming resulted in only one more movie, the
interesting Hustle. The slow but engaging detective thriller predates Taxi Driver and
Hardcore in its depiction of
the harsh fates awaiting young girls in the city.
LA detective Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) lives with prostitute Nicole Britton
(Catherine Deneuve) and finds her lifestyle a problem as he gets more serious
about her. His latest case is a dead girl washed up on the Malibu shore. He and his partner
Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) sympathize for the victim's father, Marty Hollinger (Ben Johnson),
an old soldier bitter that 'nobodies' like himself are pushed around and ignored by the system.
Phil tries to help Marty's wife Paula (Eileen Brennan) but dares not let Marty know the real
circumstances of his daughter's death. Officially a drug suicide, she was actually a call girl
and porn actress last seen in the company of Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a rich but corrupt
lawyer entangled in sex parties, adult movies and labor racketeering.
Hustle starts from a scene in Jules Dassin's The Naked City made a generation earlier.
An elderly midwestern couple comes to New York to claim the body of their daughter, a good-time girl
murdered by drowning in a bathtub. The father says something to the effect of "O Lord, why couldn't
she have been born ugly?
Gloria Hollinger probably wasn't murdered, but it makes no difference to her father Marty, a Korean
War vet with a chip on his shoulder against the system. Everyone keeps asking if Marty is 'anybody,'
just in case his daughter's death might merit a special investigation, but even Marty knows that
his needs and feelings will be ignored. He invested his entire failed life in this girl and figures
that cops like Phil Gaines are just there to obstruct justice.
Burt Reynolds' Phil Gaines has few answers for Marty, and even fewer for himself. He's one of
those modern cops for whom the proven virtues of courage and loyalty have lost their luster; his superior
Santuro (Ernest Borgnine) is more interested in fishing and politics than solving crimes. As Marty
says, the system is rigged in favor of wealthy guys with 'juice.' The slimy Leo Sellars can be
involved in gang murders and porn vice while contributing to the deliquency of minors, but nobody
dares touch him with wiretap evidence or even approach him on the subject of sex parties with
underage girls. When Marty calls Phil a sellout, the detective knows it is the truth. Instead of going after
the bad guys, Phil lets Marty see the porn film starring his daughter ... which he should know will
goad Marty to violent action.
Hustle has a lot of good things going for it, but comes off as a bit slow and disjointed.
A kinky romantic subplot has been shoehorned into the script, and it doesn't work all that well. Cop Reynolds
is given the ultra-sophisticated Catherine Deneuve as a co-star, and she plays a top LA call girl.
Perhaps the character is feasible but it comes off as commercial maneuvering; we never see Deneuve
do anything more suggestive than making phone sex calls (without as much as a naughty word spoken),
and she always looks as perfect as Grace Kelly. Both actors have star power but lack chemistry. Reynolds
has some charm and Deneuve is more amorous than usual, but their scenes seem forced.
A number of phony action scenes are interspersed to keep up an illusion of excitement. In a development
right out of a bad TV cop show, Phil Gaines interecedes in a hostage situation. One of Aldrich's
familiar downbeat endings seems to come in from a Joseph Wambaugh cop story like The New Centurions.
Hustle never decides whether it is a cop thriller, corruption mystery or unlikely romance.
Steve Shagan's script drags in an easy characterization for Phil; he's a nostalgic fellow who loves
music and memories from the 20s and 30s, times he didn't experience for himself. The soundtrack takes
every opportunity to use source music from the 50s and earlier, all romantic
stuff by Charles Aznavour, big bands, etc. This background is meant to paint Phil Gaines as a man
out of his time and a tragic figure, but it all seems imposed. Reynolds isn't a deep
enough actor to sell it; there's nothing tragic in his eyes. As for all the retro whining, Shagan
seems to be recycling unused material from his awful ode to self-pity Save the Tiger.
Hustle ends with an apologia for faking evidence and rigging the system, but the crimes don't seem
any less corrupt just because Phil is doing them for a noble reason. He has no assurance that the
unstable Marty will go along with the charade, and he does his partner a lousy disservice by dragging him
into a major felony without even asking permission first. Belgrave earlier asked where the justice
was, but it does nobody no good to say that justice can be found in vigilante conspiracies.
All of the actors are reasonably good in Hustle. Ernest Borgnine doesn't overact as he
often does for Aldrich, and Eileen Brennan is terrific in a smallish role. Eddie Albert is also
fine as a smooth villain, while Paul Winfield helps Reynolds make with the cop-talk. Ben Johnson
also scores, although he's acting at the limits of his range. There's a nice comparison between
Johnson's tearful viewing of his daughter in a porn film, to George C. Scott doing the same thing in
Hardcore. The really meaningful movie that presented America as a place that sacrifices its
sons to war and its daughters to sex killers is Ivan Passer's
Cutter's Way, made six years later.
Paramount's DVD of Hustle is a good enhanced transfer of a film that was never all that
pretty. The sound is clear for all of those sourced musical selections (So Rare, So Rare!)
and colors are good. There are no extras. The cover tries to make the movie look like an action
film, which it is not.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 20, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson