During the 1960s, Paul Newman was in one movie after another. He wasn’t just a great actor, he was a prolific one. While he was nominated for Oscars again and again, he wasn’t winning them. He became more seasoned and picked up fewer roles. Some may have assumed that was because he wasn’t as ambitious, or maybe he wasn’t being offered jobs, but in truth Newman was becoming choosier. If he was going to be in something, he wanted it to be awesome. Enter the 1986 film The Color of Money, which is now streaming free on YouTube movies.
The Color of Money is actually a sequel, but you don’t have to see the first. Paul Newman first played Eddie Felson in 1961’s The Hustler. In that film, he plays a young hustler, flirting with women, playing pool, and facing off against the best in a high stakes match. That movie was directed by Robert Rossen. Some 25 years later, Newman wrote a letter to Martin Scoresee asking him to make this project. The director is legendary. Because of this, we mostly think of any project he’s involved with as “his”. But in terms of The Color of Money, while names like Scoresee and Tom Cruise are definitely prominent, this was always a Paul Newman film. He drove the screenwriter, Richard Price, a bit nuts. He wanted to do as much as possible to make sure this film was great.
In the end, it paid off. While many critics say that The Color of Money is not as good as the original, they largely say it’s great. This story sees Paul Newman pick up the role of Eddie Felson like he’d been playing him all along. Common Sense Media commented on this, saying, “What’s stunning about the film is the complexity Newman lends Eddie; he’s likable and charming, even when he’s being all Machiavellian.” In the story, Eddie takes on a protege, Tom Cruise. Here, we see Newman and Cruise play off each other, and it feels like Cruise’s skills as an actor come more to life. The reviews from critics comment on this. Empire Online said, “A joy to see two masters (Scorsese and Newman) at ease with their work, and one, Cruise, in the making.”
The movie did well with critics, audiences, and did decently at the box office in 1986. It earned $52 million worldwide during its run in theaters. Today, it holds a 7.0 rating on IMDB. It has an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is brought up a fair amount by the love critics had for it. Most notably, it’s where Paul Newman first won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He’d been nominated six times for Best Actor before this. One of those movies was actually The Hustler. The others were Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud, Absence of Malice, The Verdict, and Cool Hand Luke.
Newman talked at length with Indie Wire about that win. He shared how much he’d wanted it for so many years. He said, “It’s like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years, and then it’s ‘well, here I am.’ And you say, ‘so…now what’?” He was married to Joanna Woodward. She had won an Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve 30 years prior. He said she teased him about that quite a bit.
After The Color of Money, Paul Newman was in notably fewer films. This may have been because, like he said, he was becoming choosier about the scripts he took on. However, there was a marked slow down after the award. When he told Indie Wire that he felt like “now what?”, it comes across like Newman felt less of a drive to create just anything. He had a long career behind him, the big award. He didn’t have the same need he did in his younger years.
Still, as late as 2002, he was in one of his most famous films, Road to Perdition. Paul Newman passed away in 2008. Just before that, in 2006, he was the voice of Doc Hudson in Cars.
Have you seen The Color of Money? This movie earned Paul Newman his only Oscar and showed off what Tom Cruise was going to become. If you haven’t seen it, and you’re in the mood for a story about some pool hustlers doing their best work, there’s nothing stopping you from catching this one on streaming.