29 July 2010 | MetalGeek
Made for TV Melodrama
"Hustling" was made for TV in 1975, back when "Movies of the Week" were more of an "Event" and were taken more seriously than they are today. I'd be willing to bet that whatever network first aired this film, probably preceded it with ads saying that it was "Ripped from the headlines" or "The Shocking True Story..." It obviously worked, as I understand the film won several Emmy Awards. 35 years after the fact, "Hustling" is still a decent, although a bit dry, melodrama.
Considering that I found this film on a budget-priced DVD collection called "GREAT BAD GIRL MOVIES," I was hoping for something a little more sleazy/exploitative than what I got. No such luck. "Hustling" turned out to be a pretty straightforward drama, with the basic message being "Hey, prostitutes are people too, man." Lee Remick (pre-"The Omen") stars as a reporter for a major New York magazine who wants to write an expose on the prostitution problem in the Times Square area, which at the time was reaching critical mass. She befriends a reluctant veteran hooker named Wanda (Jill Clayburgh, whose Noo Yawk accent is so thick you can cut it with a steak knife) and uses her as her 'source' for the article, which causes problems for Wanda not only with the other "girls" but with her pimp, who doesn't want her discussing "the business" with an outsider. Of course, since this is a made for TV film the language and action are mostly squeaky clean. The most suggestive dialogue you'll hear is a "prostie" suggesting to a john that he take "two girls" instead of just one, and the only violence is implied or happens offscreen. The upbeat ending is unrealistic and feels as if it were tacked on at the last minute. If this movie were made today, it would probably air on the Lifetime Channel and it would star Alyssa Milano as the reporter and Jennifer Love Hewitt as Wanda. (Y'know what? Now that I think about it, I'd watch that. Haha.)
So while "Hustling" was not exactly what I expected, it was still worth a look,, mainly for the way-cool shot-on-location scenes in the mean streets of New York City circa 1975. The city was a lot dirtier and scarier than it is nowadays. It's also fun to play "spot the character actor" with the supporting cast; you'll see such dependables as Alex Rocco, Burt Young, and even Howard Hesseman ("WKRP") in small roles. Trivia geeks alert, director Joseph Sargent directed multitudes of other TV movies and mini series throughout the '70s and '80s as well as the occasional theatrical film, including 1987's legendary disaster "Jaws: The Revenge!" If nothing else, "Hustling" is far superior to that famed turkey. Retro movie fans should get a few kicks from this dusty offering.