In his salad days (as opposed to his later salad-dressing days), Paul Newman specialized in playing handsome louts. Method-trained, Newman at his best used his looks as a facade, peering out balefully from behind the mask of his grinning persona and thus not wearing us (and himself) out — unlike the showier Brando or the tortured James Dean. This surly young Newman was never better than in Robert Rossen's The Hustler (1961) and Martin Ritt's Hud (1963), the impressive double bill that screens at the Roxie this Sunday. Amoral moral tales from the Kennedy years, Newman in both plays a withdrawn user, but — in keeping with the era's liberalism — perhaps a salvageable one. The sadly faded America we see in both films belies the New Frontier pieties that give Hud a certain heaviness, a weight largely redeemed by Patricia Neal's outstanding performance as a wise woman who evades Newman's grasp. The Hustler, a great film by the neglected Rossen, slips past all piety in the ferocities of its ensemble acting (George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie) and is superior in every way to Martin Scorsese's wretched sequel, The Color of Money. (Put me down for a dollar to have that one transferred to highly flammable nitrate.) The films gain immeasurably from outstanding B&W photography by Eugen ShYfftan (The Hustler) and James Wong Howe (Hud), both men winning Oscars for their pearly gray renderings of Newman's pearly blue eyes.
— Gregg Rickman
The Hustler screens at 2:15 and 7 p.m. (with Hud at 4:50 and 9:30 p.m.) on Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). Tickets are $6; call 863-1087.