Leonard Maltin calls Hustle pretentious. I think he’s referring to the spotlights Aldrich shines in people’s faces for close-ups. I think Maltin’s wrong about those shots and their pretense. Aldrich isn’t being pretentious, he’s just totally incompetent when it comes to directing a movie like Hustle.
But I’m not talking about the story content–it’s a really poorly written character study of Burt Reynolds’s uncaring cop and Catherine Denueve as his call girl girlfriend–but the production. Ernest Borgnine plays Reynold’s boss (the movie’s hilariously loose with police ranks and their responsibilities) and through Borgnine’s office windows is the city of Los Angeles. Well, a picture of the city. In black and white. Clearly in black and white.
The movie looks like it was shot on a bunch of cheap TV sets, with Joseph F. Biroc’s cinematography less artful than episode of the Adam West “Batman” show. It’s not all Biroc’s fault, Aldrich doesn’t have a good shot in the film. It looks like he’s directing a poorly budgeted television show, one with a great cast and an awful script.
As the leads, I guess Reynolds and Denueve aren’t terrible. When Hustle is just the two of them sitting around the sitcom set they call home, it’s just this incredibly boring character piece. It’s like a misfired play, but it’s not awful. Once they leave, however… trouble begins.
Worst is Ben Johnson in some ways–he’s almost good, but his character is so poorly written, he’s awful.
Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich; screenplay by Steve Shagan, based on his novel; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Michael Luciano; music by Frank De Vol; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Burt Reynolds (Lieutenant Phil Gaines), Catherine Deneuve (Nicole Britton), Ben Johnson (Marty Hollinger), Paul Winfield (Sergeant Louis Belgrave), Eileen Brennan (Paula Hollinger), Eddie Albert (Leo Sellers), Ernest Borgnine (Santuro), Jack Carter (Herbie Dalitz), Colleen Brennan (Gloria Hollinger), James Hampton (Bus Driver), David Spielberg (Bellamy) and Catherine Bach (Peggy Summers).