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From the DVD Shelf: The Color of Money (1986)

After watching The Hustler (click here for my review of that 1961 film), I immediately had to watch Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. This has to be one of the weirdest sequels ever made.  Released twenty-five years after the original film, made by a different director, shot in color as opposed to the original’s black-and-white, The Color of Money is a completely different film than The Hustler. And yet, I was impressed by how connected the two films were, mostly because of the story — which, though set years later, seems to draw a direct line from the end of The Hustler — and, of course, Paul Newman’s reprisal of his classic role as “Fast” Eddie Felson.

Like The Hustler, The Color of Money was adapted from a novel by Walter Tevis.  Following the events of The Hustler, Eddie stopped being a pool shark.  He seems to have made a fine (though not especially successful) life for himself, but when he sees an incredibly talented young pool player, Vincent (played by Tom Cruise), Eddie begins to hunger once again for the action.  He convinces Vincent to let Eddie take him on the road, so he can teach Vincent the pool shark game and hopefully make the both of them a lot of money.

As in The Hustler, the film succeeds primarily because Paul Newman is so fantastic in the role of “Fast” Eddie.  Mr. Newman may be an older man, but he’s still incredibly compelling and charismatic.  You can see in the way he talks, and the way he moves, the powerful young man that “Fast” Eddie once was.  As the film progresses, the narrative keeps the audience in genuine doubt as to whether Eddie still has what it takes to beat the odds and get the score, or whether he’s just a washed up old man with memories of glory.  Mr. Newman’s powerful yet subtle performance allows the audience to envision both possibilities.

The beating heart of The Color of Money, of course, and the film’s whole reason for being, is the pairing of elder statesman Paul Newman with the young Tom Cruise as Vincent.  Mr. Cruise is electric in the role.  Vincent is brash and loud, full of energy and enthusiasm and lust for life, but totally without patience and not exactly possessing of a plethora of brains.  The twenty-four year-old Cruise commands the viewer’s attention, and when he and Paul Newman share the screen (as they do for much of the film’s run-time), their chemistry is palpable and exciting.  It’s a terrific dynamic, and certainly one that helps you understand why the filmmakers felt like a return to “Fast” Eddie and the world of … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: The Hustler (1961)

In this 1961 film, adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, Paul Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, an incredibly talented pool shark.  He and his partner Charlie (Myron McCormick) have been scamming their way from pool hall to pool hall, with the dream of one day taking on Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Fats is considered the best of the best, and Eddie hopes to beat him and win a big score.  Of course, things don’t quite go as planned, and soon Eddie finds himself broke and directionless.  He meets up with a beautiful but hard-drinking young woman named Sarah, and sparks fly.  Will Fast Eddie try to settle down and make a life with this woman who loves him, or will he return to his hustling ways and attempt another confrontation with Minnesota Fats?

The first 45-50 minutes of The Hustler — the introduction to Eddie and Charlie and that first extended pool game with Minnesota Fats — is absolutely electric.  I don’t know anything about pool, but I was riveted to every moment.  Robert Rossen’s direction is superlative, and the force of personality of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason is extraordinary.  You don’t need to understand anything about pool — Mr. Rossen makes clear everything you need to know, and the sharp characters draw you in immediately.  It’s marvelous.

Things slow down significantly once that big game of pool is completed.  The film pauses for a significant middle section of the movie in which Eddie meets Sarah and the two fall into a relationship.  After a while I did become invested in the story of these characters’ relationship, but after the high of the pool game it is quite a drop-off in intensity.  (Let’s face-it — I was bored.)  Things do pick up again as the film builds towards its conclusion, and Eddie and Sarah’s courtship is interrupted by events.

Piper Laurie is quite intriguing as Sarah.  Her deep voice and her mannerisms create a rather unique woman.  Sarah is no wallflower — she’s an independent woman who has clearly done a lot of living.  I was fascinated to see how this pretty young lady who “meets cute” with Fast Eddie in a train station is gradually revealed to be as damaged and self-destructive — if not more so! — than is Eddie himself.

Watching The Hustler it is clear why Paul Newman was a super-star for such a long period of time.  The man is electric — a live-wire performer.  He’s incredibly handsome and charismatic, a fully-formed leading man, but not a simplistic pretty-boy.  Take a look into his sharp eyes or take a listen to his  fantastic voice — deep and gravelly — and layers of emotion … [continued]