The 1975 film 'Hustle' is a great modern love story disguised as a neo-noir police procedural. Largely unappreciated at the time of its release, the situation has not improved greatly if we are to judge by this no-frills DVD release.
Reviewed by Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 8, 2005
Paramount Home Video, $14.95The 1975 film Hustle is a great modern love story disguised as a neo-noir police procedural. Largely unappreciated at the time of its release, the situation has not improved greatly if we are to judge by this no-frills DVD release or the bomb rating it receives in Leonard Maltin's annual Movie & Video Guide. Still, it's great to see this widescreen gem the way it's meant to be seen, instead of those pan-and-scan or cropped TV prints that have circulated over the years. Hustle is directed by Hollywood maverick Robert Aldrich (his durability is perhaps best noted by the past year's remakes of two of his films: The Longest Yard and The Flight of the Phoenix), and written by Steve Shagan (Save the Tiger). In Hustle, Burt Reynolds (who co-produced the film with Aldrich) plays Lt. Phil Gaines, a hard-boiled LAPD detective. When a dead girl is found on the beach full of barbiturates and semen, it becomes the job of Gaines and his partner Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield, in a hard-edged, contemporary turnabout from his then recent work in Sounder) to determine whether the death was murder or suicide. The investigation takes them through some of the seedier corners of L.A., whether it's the downtown office of the coarse and self-serving police liaison (Ernest Borgnine), the topless joint where the dead girl worked (managed by a slimy has-been played by Jack Carter), or the yacht of the smiling merchant of death Leo Sellers (played by Eddie Albert with a patina of cool that cloaks a rancid core in one of his great late-career villain roles). At night, Phil comes home to his live-in girlfriend Nicole (Catherine Deneuve, whose range here goes all the way from ice princess to sex goddess). Nicole is a call girl and a phone-sex operator who would happily give up her career if Phil would agree to provide for her. Phil is working on it (he promises that "we're going to bust out of here soon"), but he can't escape the dirty pictures in his head. Their relationship is one of the most raw, modern, and honest portraits in Seventies movies. Don't forget that these were no mere movie stars: This was the guy who posed in the buff for the Playgirl centerfold and the woman who was the international face of Chanel No. 5. "Everyone hustles," as the movie says, but it's another thing to see the process without illusions.
Also Out Now
Prozac Nation (Miramax Home Entertainment, $29.99): Shelved by Miramax since 2001, this movie based on Elizabeth Wurtzel's bestseller about the medicating of depression stars Christina Ricci.
Bright Leaves (First Run Features, $29.95): The great documentarian Ross McElwee (Sherman's March) returns to his Southern stomping grounds to examine the legacy of tobacco production and what it has meant to the state of North Carolina and to McElwee's family (his grandfather invented Bull Durham).