1986 in Film – The Colour of Money

Release Date: October 17th
Box Office: $50,159,778

It’s pretty amazing how quickly became Tom Cruise Hollywood royalty. I mean, yeah it took a few films but once Top Gun (1986) hit he was right up there at the top. You only look have to the poster for The Colour of Money (1986) to see this: only a few films into his career and there’s his name as big as Paul Newman’s. Quite a bit smaller is Martin Scorsese’s but we’ll come to that.

The point is that this is an interesting film as you have three bona fide legends all at different stages in their various careers: one on the way up, one trying to get back on track and one with no more lands to conquer.

Newman is that last one. The film is a sequel to The Hustler (1961), a film that cemented Newman’s place in Hollywood Royalty. In that film, a neo-realist style drama, Newman plays Fast Eddie Felson, a pool hustler trying to break his way into the major league of hustling by way of defeating the legendary Minnesota Fats. Colour features the same character only 25 years later; Fast Eddie is now a liquor salesman, staking bets for talented pool players on the side.

If Fast Eddie had moved on, so had Newman in a way. Since The Towering Inferno (1974) he had made less films and spent more time with other endeavours; car racing, his food company, political activism. He didn’t need the silver screen as much as it needed him. The films he did star in didn’t exactly set the world alight, his last film prior to Colour was Harry and Son (1984) which he also directed to a lukewarm response.

Which may explain why he chose to return to the character of Fast Eddie: you can feel the weight of time on both him and the character. Both of them nostalgic for a time when they were at their pomp, wondering about their place in the world. Both looking over their shoulder at the next big thing coming up behind them.

That would, of course, be Cruise. He plays Vincent, a young pool player that Fast Eddie takes under his wing. He tries to show him how to navigate the world of hustling but Vincent wants to do things his own way.

Cruise was still exploding as a major Hollywood star; Risky Business (1983) and All The Right Moves (1983) had put him on the map, Legend (1985) was for everyone a bit of a misstep and Top Gun (1986) was the rocket underneath him. Colour sits in the wake of that film, the star of the biggest film of the year in a low budget film about pool.

But that says a lot about Cruise because the film was a chance for him to work with Hollywood royalty and one the best directors working at that time.

You wouldn’t have thought that though looking at Martin Scorsese’s last few films. With Raging Bull (1980) he made one of the films of the decade but what followed shortly after couldn’t live up to it. King of Comedy (1983) reunited him with Robert De Niro but failed at the box office and with the critics. He then tried to make an adaption of the novel The Last Temptation of Christ which had the plug pulled at the last minute so he instead made After Hours (1985), a much smaller film.

It was Newman who approach Scorsese; he had enjoyed Raging Bull and thought that the grit of the film was what The Colour of Money needed. For Scorsese this was a challenge as here was a film with two bona fide Movie Stars with capital letters and all the positive and negatives that come along with it. He made a great effort to make sure that the film came in on time and under budget, which it did.

Does this mean that it has the best of Scorsese in it? Probably not. It doesn’t stand up to the quality of The Hustler but as a companion piece it’s very successful. It does everything it was intended to do: it puts Cruise alongside legitimate Hollywood royalty and makes him look good alongside them; Scorsese gets a mainstream hit; Newman gets another starring role and nets himself an Oscar.

And yes, that Oscar was probably because he didn’t get one for Hustler but thats kind of the point. Sometimes in a career there needs to be a film like this. A film that helps to further establish a new star, a film to steady the ship, a film that reminds you how good a career somebody had. The fact that The Colour of Money manages to do all three at once is to it’s credit.

All three would never work together again. Cruise continued churning out hit after hit, Newman returned to his semi retirement and Scorsese finally made his dream project with The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which struggled under the weight of the controversy around the film.

No, the eighties weren’t that kind to Scorsese. In this respect it makes Colour look like an oasis, a true success in the middle of a period of struggle. But Colour had one last gift to give: whilst on a break on set Scorsese read a review of a book called Wiseguys. It was about the mob and it intrigued him, enough to start work on a script with it’s author Nick Pileggi.

The film would end up as Goodfellas (1990).

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