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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Drama > Hustle (1975)

Hustle (1975)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: A-



Robert Aldrich's Hustle is one of those films that played much better for me now than when I first saw it when I was younger.  That's probably because this 1975 police drama is a film made by adults for adults and not watered down like it would be today.  Not only does it offer a realistic portrait of jaded, everyday cops who aren't involved in shootouts or car chases every 5 seconds -- these guys actually investigate crimes and interview witnesses -- but it also reflects a truthful, knowing attitude that makes a viewer say to themselves, "yes, unfortunately, that's how it is."  As directed by Aldrich and written by Steve Shagan (writer of Save the Tiger, The Formula and The Sicilian), Hustle is an honest and profoundly sad movie about how society and the legal system favors those with money, power and connections over those who don't.  This makes it a fine companion piece to Roman Polanski's Chinatown, another Los Angeles-based mystery with a realistically jaundiced outlook.


Hustle, in fact, is so far removed from the usual mainstream fare of the past 25 years that it now plays more like an art film than a movie that was released by a major studio (Paramount) for the 1975 Christmas season.  The downbeat nature of Hustle might explain why it did only moderate business, and nowhere near as well as the film Aldrich and Burt Reynolds did a year earlier, 1974's "The Longest Yard" (also reviewed on this site).  Interestingly, Reynolds was simultaneously appearing in 20th Century Fox's Lucky Lady during the 1975 holiday season, which did about the same amount of business as Hustle, but was considered a bigger box-office disappointment in relation to its higher cost.


Hustle begins with the discovery of the dead body of a young woman washed up on the southern California shore.  Los Angeles cops Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate.  The coroner's report says the dead woman committed suicide, but the dead girl's father (Ben Johnson as Marty) doesn't buy it.  What would normally be a closed case is kept open by Marty's persistence.  He's determined to find his daughter's killer even if the police don't believe a crime has been committed.  Of course, Marty's suspicions of foul play are correct, and it turns out his estranged daughter was a stripper who appeared in pornographic films.  And one of the last people to see her alive is a high-powered attorney (Eddie Albert) with lots of connections.  After playing the crooked warden a year earlier for Aldrich in The Longest Yard, Albert again is cast against type to good advantage as a soft-spoken slimeball.


But Hustle is also about the personal life of Phil Gaines, a veteran cop who's divorced, never sees his kid, and has fallen in love with a high-priced prostitute named Nicole (Catherine Deneuve).  The time he spends with Nicole in her apartment provides a respite from the sordid world he encounters daily, and he dreams of one day escaping L.A. and moving with Nicole to Rome.  But this isn't the kind of story that's headed for a contrived happily-ever-after ending.  The romance between Reynolds' cop and Deneuve's prostitute will undoubtedly remind movie buffs of Sharky's Machine, another very good Reynolds film from six-years later in which he also plays an unhappy cop who falls in love with a high-priced hooker (played by Rachel Ward).  Combining toughness, sensitivity and flashes of humor, Reynolds is at his absolute best in Hustle, and once again proves why he's one of the all-time great stars.


Typical of an Aldrich film, Hustle has a strong strong supporting cast, which also includes Eileen Brennan as the murder victim's mother; Ernest Borgnine as the police commissioner; Jack Carter as a strip-joint owner; and the future Daisy Duke, Catherine Bach, as a red-light district friend of the victim.  A then-unknown Fred Willard and Robert Englund also pop up in small roles.


Paramount has given Hustle a decent transfer to DVD presenting its 1.85:1 aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen.  The picture quality is good, not great, but looks good for its age.  The original mono sound's enhancement to Dolby digital is satisfactory.  However, in the extras department, the lack of even a theatrical trailer is again very disappointing.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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