Through a distribution deal with the Warner Archive, many Paramount titles are being reissued on DVD. Among them: "Hustle", a 1975 crime flick starring Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve. The film is definitely of an era when cop and gangster movies largely defined the medium. Directed by Robert Aldrich, "Hustle" doesn't rate high on the achievement scale of any of the participants but that isn't to say it doesn't have redeeming values that make it worth a look. The film opens on a sobering note with a group of grammar school kids rejoicing in a field trip to the beach- only to immediately discover a body in the surf. Turns out she is Gloria Hollinger, a wayward teen who had been living a troubled life. L.A. police Lt. Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Sgt. Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are assigned to investigate the death. The coroner quickly dismisses the death as a suicide. Gaines and Belgrave accept that verdict but they are then confronted by Gloria's grieving parents, Marty and Paula Hollinger (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan). Marty is an emotionally unstable man who has never recovered from traumas suffered in the Korean War. He has a short fuse and an explosive temper. His wife tells Gaines and Belgrave that although their daughter's promiscuous ways caused them anxiety, Marty was extremely close to her. He becomes obsessed with finding the person or people he believes murdered his daughter. He locks horns with the cops and accuses them of being complicit in a cover-up. Meanwhile, Belgrave starts to have second thoughts about the suicide theory. Initially, his pleas to re-open the case are rejected by Gaines and their boss, Captain Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) but eventually he relents and begins to investigate further. The trail leads to Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert), a sophisticated business tycoon with a penchant for wining and dining prostitutes- including Gaines's own girlfriend, Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), who is a high priced call girl. Gaines learns that Sellers did indeed have contact with Gloria and that he arranged for her to star in porn films for his own pleasure. He denies having anything to do with her death, however. Marty Hollinger isn't buying the denial and sets out to avenge his daughter- an act that leads to a dramatic confrontation with Sellers.
"Hustle" strives to be more complex and intelligent than many of the low-end cop films from this era. To a degree it succeeds. The script by Steve Shagan does accentuate relationships and character development over major action sequences. However, the script is also problematic because the story line never really engages the viewer on an emotional level. The victim of the alleged crime is already dead when we first see her so there is little emotional resonance toward her character. Much of the screen time is taken up with the ups and downs of Gaines's relationship with Nicole. Theirs is more than a love affair of convenience. He is clearly smitten by her but harbors resentment over her lifestyle as a hooker. Nicole, for her part, is quite comfortable with her line of work. She will only give it up if Gaines marries her, something he is reluctant to do, having already been in a failed marriage. Reynolds and Deneuve defined charisma and glamour on screen in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, director Aldrich has plenty of bedroom scenes with his attractive leads but they are strangely bland and anything but erotic. Writer Shagan attempts to delve deeply into Gaines's psyche. He's sarcastic and cynical toward his job and superiors (in the tradition of all '70s cinematic cops) and he seems cold and unemotional. He also harbors fantasies about returning to Rome, where he once visited in relation to an investigation. He even keeps a calendar from 1968 on his wall to remind him of his goal to return to Italy. There are also references (not very well explained) of his obsession with "Moby Dick". The latter two personality quirks are supposed to be endearing but come across as rather pretentious in the scheme of the story. As for Deneuve, she is largely used for window dressing. We see her sauntering around the apartment and occasionally profiting from engaging in an obscene phone call with a client. In reality, her character could easily have been removed from the script without any major detriment to the overall story line.
The film meanders through some rather innocuous sequences before leading to the climax, which is quite intriguing and much better than most of what proceeded it. Reynolds and Deneuve are in fine form but the best performances come from Eileen Brennan and Ben Johnson as the distraught parents. Johnson, in particular, is a frightening force of nature and gives a riveting performance. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted in a couple of short sequences that are rather weakly written. Paul Winfield gives the film an additional emotional core as the antithesis of Gaines in that he is a man of compassion and honor. Eddie Albert, always an asset to any film, is spot-on as usual, but also under-utilized. Other familiar faces in supporting roles include Catherine Bach and Jack Carter. The film, photographed by Joseph Biroc, has a grainy look that is compatible with many action movies of this period and composer Frank De Vol's score ranges from disco-like themes to schmaltzy romantic mood music.
The Warner Archive release contains no extra features.