I have to admit that I had ulterior motives for reviewing the film Hustle as a part of Embracing the Melodrama. I was already planning on reviewing another 1975 film about prostitutes, one that I had recently watched on Netflix. That name of that film was Hustling and, for whatever reason, it amused me to imagine being alive in 1975 and going to see Hustle at a movie theater and then coming home, turning on TV, and finding myself watching a film called Hustling.
So really, if I was going to review one of those films, I had to review the other, right? It made perfect sense at the time!
Anyway, as for Hustling, it’s a film about prostitutes in New York and the wealthy magazine writer who decides to interview them for an article. Watching the film, what I immediately noticed was that, even though the film had a properly gritty feel to it, none of the characters ever cursed and, for a film about sex workers, there was no nudity. Though the characters continually talked about getting beaten up by their pimps, all of the violence occurred off-screen. Even more importantly, whenever something dramatic happened, the scene would fade to black. It was almost as if the movie was pausing for an unseen commercial.
Which, of course, it was. Hustling was made for television and, as I watched it, it was easy for me to imagine that I was actually watching the latest Lifetime original film. It certainly followed a pattern that should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a movie on Lifetime. Wanda (Jill Clayburgh, giving an excellent performance) is a veteran prostitute who, after being arrested for the hundredth time, is told that the charges against her will be dropped if she allows herself to be interviewed by magazine writer, Fran Morrison (Lee Remick). At first Wanda refuses but, after her pimp refuses to pay her fine and suggests that she should just accept spending a few months in jail, Wanda reconsiders and accepts Fran’s offer.
The rest of the film charts Fran and Wanda’s unlikely friendship. Wanda tells Fran what it’s like to be prostitute. Fran encourages Wanda and the other prostitutes to stand up for their legal rights. Wanda deals with a society that looks down on her. Fran deals with a boyfriend (Monte Markham) who can’t understand why she’s so concerned about a bunch of prostitutes. Wanda considers going back to her pimp. Fran considers exposing all of the “respectable” men who use prostitutes.
So, Hustling is pretty predictable and, not surprisingly, rather dated but it’s also a fairly effective portrait of life on the margins of society. Lee Remick is stuck playing a one-note character but Jill Clayburgh is great in the role of Wanda. If nothing else, Hustling was filmed on location in some of the sleaziest parts of 1970s New York City and therefore, the film serves as a bit of a historical document.
For those wishing to check it out, the film’s currently available on Netflix.