With the beneﬁt of hindsight, The Color of Money must have appeared a guaranteed, sureﬁre, money-in- the-bank success; a sequel to the Oscar-winning The Hustler ( 1961) it places Paul Newman, returning as‘Fast‘ Eddie Felson, in competition with Top Gun‘s hotshot Tom Cruise in a film by Martin Scorsese, one of America’s most distinctive and talented directors. It couldn’t really miss but at the time of its inception Cruise was trying to live down the diasastrous Legend, Newman had just made the yawn- inducing Harry and Son and Scorsese was trying to restart his career after the inexplicable commercial failure of King of Comedy and the cancellation of a pet project, The Last Temptation of Christ. There is therefore a resounding satisfaction, for maker and viewer alike, to be derived from the film’s closing shot when pool and ball thunderously collide and Felson declares to the world ‘I‘m back‘. Given that neither Newman nor Scorsese has been exactly idle it seems inappropriate to describe The Color ofMoney as their comeback film but that is exactly how it appears. At a recent London press conference, Newman admitted, ‘I was getting bored and thought I was running out of steam; beginning to duplicate myself, repeating successful mannerisms. Joanne (Woodward - Newman‘s wife) thinks my passion for automobiles has bled back into other pursuits.’ Author William Tevis‘s sequel to The Hustler appeared in print in 1984 and was immediately in development as a potential film. After two unsatisfactory scripts, Newman contacted Martin Scorsese, a director whom he admired, wanted to work with and knew to be very available. Scorsese’s career worries were almost the antitheses of Newman‘s; not boredom but frustration at the lack of opportunities for a director of his stature to work in a Hollywood
Paul Newman in ‘The Hustler’
Allan Hunter discovers why The Color ofMoney has made a new man ofNewman.
artistically unadventurous and cowardly in the wake of such well-publicised financial flops as Heaven’s Gate, Honky Tonk Freeway and 1941. ‘When I was first approached I wasn‘t that interested in the ﬁlm as a straight sequel,‘ Scorsese said recently in Edinburgh. ‘But, I was interested in working with Paul Newman, who I saw at the movies when I was ten years old, and, ifl wanted to continue working within the current Hollywood system, I needed to try and work on things that I did not conceive and make it my own in some way. I had tc show Hollywood that I could make the kind of film that would keep me working. I didn‘t want to vegetate and I didn’t want to wait five years between pictures.‘
In a close collaboration with Newman and writer Richard Price, Scorsese began work on a third version of the script which jettisoned much of the incident in Tevis‘s novel but remained faithful to the notion ol a man rediscovering his true worth. Newman dislikes calling the film a sequel and prefers to term it ‘another look around’ at a character he found interesting. Once the third script was committed to paper he had no qualms about the pressures on him to try and emulate a previous success. His confidence was riding so high that he made a bet with Scorsese for the lavish sum of$2 that the film would gross $50 million in America
alone and his estimate
was only a million short of the mark. The reason for his confidence
was undoubtedly the quality ofthe script. Scorsese says that Newman does not like improvising on set but would go to any lengths prior to the filming to fine tune and improve the script.
‘There are lines and scenes in that film that are so good, actors would kill for them,’ Newman enthuses. ‘There is an almost palpable taste and tang to the language. When he says something like ‘play this right and we can all go home in limousines’ there is just so much juice in that; you could play it thirty different ways and still come out looking good.’
Newman, at 62, comes out of The Color ofMoney looking like the masterful old pro that he has become; there is both the energy of enthusiasm and the subtlety of experience in his performance. Unsurprisingly, he has been nominated for the Academy Award as the year‘s Best Actor. Understandably, he has grown rather wary of the topic; after seven nominations he has nothing on the mantelpiece apart from an honorary award bestowed upon him in 1986. ‘Winning an Oscar probably was important to me a long time ago,‘ he admits with candour and a weary sigh. ‘Let‘s say it’s like chasing a beautiful woman for eighty years and when she finally relents you say, “I‘m terribly sorry but I’m just too tired." ‘
For Newman, the real joy of The Color ofMoney has not been in the $50 million gross or his Oscar nomination but from the pride in the quality of the work on display. He explains the comparative rarity of his press conference and his evident good-humour by telling us, ‘I am anxious for the film to do well, not for the money aspect, but because of the hard work ofall the people responsible for getting the film made. It was a tremendous collaborative family with absolutely no egos or temperaments. Scorsese never rehearses a picture but we had two weeks on this one. Tom Cruise has tremendous actor’s courage and is a gifted athlete. Playing pool, it’s surprising how quickly you lose your eye. Cruise was better in six weeks than I was twenty-five years ago after- five months. Recently, I was beaten
by my daughter!’
IfNewman glows with the satisfaction of a job well done then Scorsese fizzes with the vitality ofa director who has picked himself off the ropes and lunged back into the ring with both fists flailing. The discipline and speed he learnt from working with Roger Corman (‘the best graduate school in the world’) have stood him in good stead as he has come to terms with the Hollywood of the Eighties. ‘It was a matter of survival. I had to get back on the horse and make another film. On After Hours it was a question of seeing whether I could shoot sixteen set ups a day again instead of the three or fourl had become used to.
Scorsese has recently completed an 18-minute video drama to promote the new Michael Jackson single ‘Bad’. (‘Michael was the studio so money wasn’t an issue: as long as he was enjoying himself, we just kept filming.‘) He is now under contract to the Touchstone arm of the Walt Disney studios and clearly won’t be vegetating over the next few years.
. In London, Newman announced
that he too has signed a long-term contract with Disney and there would seem every possibility that the two men will be professionally reunited. “There are four things in development at Disney; three I would act in and one that I might direct.’ Newman explains. ‘What do I look for in a script? Oh, it‘s a whimsical thing, originality I suppose, something I haven‘t done before. I don‘t think I’d do a violent film or a pro-military ﬁlm but I thought I‘d never do a profane film until I saw Slapshot. I‘m sorry if it offended anyone but it was irresistible. I don’t think I‘d do a pornographic film but,‘ he adds with a wolfish grin, ‘you just never know. . .’
Newman‘s next work to reach our screens will be a film version of Tennessee Williams‘ The Glass Menagerie that he has directed but does not appear in. ‘Unconsciously, I think I‘m more selective of what I do as a director,‘ he says. ‘Joanne had done the play twice and they were such extraordinary performances that I though it would be terrible ifthey were never recorded. So, I don‘t know if I‘m a director or a historian but it‘s good and I think it will blow your socks off when you see it in October.‘
Ifyou can‘t wait seven months to have your socks blown offthen The Color ofMoney will provide a similar sensation. Scorsese, Newman and ‘Fast’ Eddie are back in town and the combination is unbeatable.
The Color ofMoney opens at the Odeons in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 13 March. See Cinema Listings for details.
5 The List 6— 19 March