In Which If You Win One More Game You’ll Be Humping Your Fist For A Long Time

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In honor of thirty-five years since the debut of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, through Sunday we will be recollecting the life, times, and movies of the real Italian Stallion, director Martin Scorsese.

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Pool Balls of Impending Madness

by Jacob Sugarman

The Color of Money, 1986

119 minutes

dir. Martin Scorsese

If you wanted to trace the early signs of Tom Cruise’s impending madness, you need look no further than his performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. (To complete your case study, you might also consider his work in the 1987 tragicomedy, Cocktail).

Scorsese’s introduction to Cruise’s character, yelping like an oversexed puppy and twirling his pool stick like a band-leader with a baton, is, in fact, a prophetic glimpse into Cruise’s character.

Seeing that 9 ball wedged behind the eight in front of the corner pocket, I KNOW that I’m the only one that can sink it. Phew! This is it. This is EXACTLY it.

While the movie-goer of 1986 may have applauded Cruise’s performance as a cocky, yet naïve, pool player for its energy and exuberance, the viewer today recognizes it as Cruise simply being himself.

Ultimately, the man hopping around Oprah’s couches and professing his unique abilities to rescue people from car accidents is a logical progression from the boy portraying Vincent Lauria in Scorsese’s film.

The Color of Money picks up approximately 25 years after The Hustler ended. After retiring himself from the game of pool, Eddie Felson is “scratching” out a living peddling bootlegged booze to seedy bars and dives. In Vincent Lauria, he recognizes a younger version of himself and is thus inspired to take the young buck under his tutelage.

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siskel and ebert reviewing the color of money:

Along with Vincent’s femme fatale played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who is significantly easier on the eyes than The Hustler’s Piper Laurie), the three set out on the road to hustle their way to a pool tournament in Atlantic City.

The balls roll funny for everybody, kiddo.

Were it not for Paul Newman’s textured return to the role of “Fast” Eddie Felson, The Color of Money might have been forever lost to the realm of 80s kitsch. While Newman is often lauded for his iconic, 1960s performances (Cool Hand Luke ’68, Hud ’64 and of The Hustler ’61), one could make a compelling argument that his work in the 1980s was significantly more interesting.

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As good as Newman is in these ‘60s classics, the viewer is always confronted by how startlingly handsome he is. Through absolutely no fault of his own, he occasionally leaves his audience with the sensation that they are watching a “movie star” rather than a character in a larger narrative.

Watching Paul Newman in Absence of Malice (1981) and The Verdict (1982) is a bit like watching a brilliant pitcher in the twilight of his career.

His beauty is not as overpowering and as a result, his performances are somehow more cerebral and moving. The lines in his forehead more pronounced and his hair all but completely grey, Newman’s Eddie Felson is not so “fast” anymore.

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the movie inspired the video game Doom

The Color of Money is worth its rental price alone for the scene in which Newman’s Felson gives Mastrantonio’s Carmen a tutorial in hustling 101. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do ya?” he asks with a mischievous smile and a touch of violence in his famous, blue eyes.

Both Newman and his character prove the rule that what you lose in age, you make up for in experience.

Outside of Newman’s performance and Forest Whitaker’s small turn as a baby-faced pool shark, The Color of Money is a hollow and mostly forgettable affair. Rumor has it that Scorsese used the film as a vehicle to finance his subsequent project, The Last Temptation of Christ, and indeed it feels as though he’s going through the motions.

You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.

Despite his requisite tracking shots, the film is surprisingly lacking in visual imagination. Whereas The Hustler is shrouded in smoke and shadow, the halls where Vincent cuts his teeth and the characters he encounters lack the noirish glory of the film’s predecessor (although in Scorsese’s defense, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott are a tough act to follow).

Blame it on Robbie Robertson’s tepid, electronic-sounding score or Tom Cruise’s poofy hair, but The Color of Money is Scorsese’s lone effort from the 1980s that feels distinctly dated. With that said, it is sort of morbidly fascinating to see how Scorsese’s efforts to direct Cruise mirror Fast Eddie’s attempts to harness Vincent’s swagger and confidence.

If only Marty were more of an SP.

Jacob Sugarman is a writer living in Brooklyn. This is his first appearance in these pages.

“Shrine to Fast Goodbyes” – Emily Haines (mp3)

“Sprig” – Emily Haines (mp3)


PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Less like a lake and more like a moat.

The emergence of the iPhone.

Sit back in your chair, honey.

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4 thoughts on “In Which If You Win One More Game You’ll Be Humping Your Fist For A Long Time

  1. chiming IN with MY still broken KEYBOARD:

    WHEN i WATCHED the HUSTLER i HAD just STARTED smoking CIGARETTES and THE massive CLOUDS of SMOKE in EVERY scene AT the P/OOL hall MADE me SO sick THAT i TURNED it OFF.

    ALSO my P/ICK for TOM cruise EIGHTIES vehicle IS COCKTAIL, IF you WANT to SEE a truly RIDICULOUS movie.

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