Hustle (1975)

hustle2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father searches for killer.

Phil (Burt Reynolds) is a police lieutenant who’s in love with a beautiful French prostitute named Nicole (Catherine Deneuve) and the two live together in Phil’s swanky hilltop Malibu home. Unfortunately Phil can’t handle that Nicole continues her business practice even as the two are in a relationship and this threatens their love affair. As this goes on Phil also gets embroiled in a police investigation when a group of school children find a dead body of a 20-year-old woman washed up on the beach. The victim’s father (Ben Johnson) insists it was murder even after the autopsy says it’s a suicide. Phil and his partner Louis (Paul Winfield) are ready to close the case, but when the father starts his own investigation the two  decide to pursue it further, which leads them to many unsettling conclusions including that the daughter starred in several porno films financed by the sleazy Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert) a rich older man who also happens to be a client of Nicole’s.

This film was the second collaboration between Reynolds and director Robert Aldrich as the two had just completed the highly successful The Longest Yard a year earlier. While that film met with critical acclaim this one received only a so-so reception. There were certain elements that I liked, but I did find Reynolds’ presence to be a detriment. His boyish looks where he doesn’t have the mustache or the wavy hair, which always made him look like he was wearing a wig, is a plus, but his character is too detached. It’s only after repeated cajoling by the father that he even agrees to look into the case more and the movie would’ve been more compelling had it revolved around the father from the very beginning.

Reynolds’ relationship with Deneuve is boring and the scenes between them aren’t sexy or provocative as intended. We should’ve seen how they became a couple from the start as their attachment brings out all sorts of questions that never get answered. For instance, where did they first meet? Was it during a sexual rendezvous where Burt paid for her services, or possibly a cop raid? Why did she fall for Burt as this woman had been with a lot of men, so what made him special over the others and why would a cop think getting serious with a woman who routinely sleeps with other men be a good idea, or even work?

The movie tries to be chic by creating a character who’s initially ‘open-minded’ about prostitution, but then contradicts itself by having him turn around and demand she must give it up. If this were truly a modern thinking guy he would’ve liked the fact that she was financially independent and slept with other men because she gave herself for free to him while she made the others pay. He might even get-off watching her having sex with others, as there are some husbands/boyfriends who do, and the fact that the film doesn’t think to go into this area makes it far less ‘hip’ than it thinks it is.

There’s also a very violent moment where Reynolds refuses to let her leave, physically slaps her, and even refers to her as a ‘bitch’ several times. He then pins her to the bed and forces himself onto her. While she initially resists he continues to do it until she finally gives-in and acts like she’s enjoying it. Today’s audiences will be rightly turned-off by this and it will make Reynolds, the intended ‘good guy’, look much more like an abuser. It also might allow some men to think that being violent with women is ‘okay’ as they’ll ultimately give in and ‘learn to enjoy it’, which is the wrong message to be sending.

As mentioned earlier Ben Johnson’s character is the only thing that keeps it interesting. The scene where his eyes tear-up after watching his daughter, played by real-life adult film actress Colleen Brennan, perform in a porn film is similar to the one in Hardcorebut far more impactful here. I was amused why he even took the part as he had complained about being in The Last Picture Show, which is the film he won the Oscar for as Best Supporting Actor, because of the ‘foul language’, but then he ends up swearing quite a bit in this one. In either case I’m glad he took it as his presence raises the storyline above its otherwise seedy level and even helps give it a few memorable bits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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