Watching Movies: Paul Newman Wears A Different Kind Of Rolex In ‘The Color of Money’
He makes the Datejust look cooler than cool in our watch-related movie of the week.
Some time in 1986, Martin Scorsese received a personal letter from Paul Newman. The iconic actor was interested in working with the man behind Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. But at this juncture in his career, Scorsese wasn’t necessarily making those same kinds of cult hits. He was in a transitional period. He needed a big Hollywood picture to help earn some favor with the studios – the kind of favor that would let him make the movies he really wanted to make … like, say, Goodfellas, which would hit cinemas a mere four years later.
Scorsese is a dyed-in-the-wool cinephile. So when Newman wrote to him about directing a sequel to the legendary film The Hustler (1961) and offered to reprise his role as Fast Eddie Felson, you’d best believe Scorsese was interested. That film would become The Color of Money (1986). It’s a movie about nine-ball pool, sure – but really it’s a time capsule of early, maniacal Tom Cruise, and late, stoic (but still cool) Paul Newman – both at peak powers. Newman is best known for his namesake Daytona – but in this film, he dials it back and puts on the Rolex of the people … the Datejust.
Why We’re Watching
The U.S. Open Pool Championship wrapped this past Sunday, and the APA World Pool Championship is queued up for October. That puts us squarely in Pool season, and not the kind you swim in. The Color of Money is arguably the best movie about pool out there – and we can lump The Hustler in with it since they’re firmly of the same cinematic universe (look out, Marvel).
In 1986, Fast Eddie is past his prime, hanging around pool halls, flirting with bartenders, and spotting cash to hustlers (one of whom is played by John Turturro). But then a new hotshot enters the fray. Vincent Lauria (played by Cruise) is an arcade-game-loving man child with a greaser hairdo and a personality that is one part Bruce Lee, and 1,000 parts, well, Tom Cruise. Felson sees something in the young whippersnapper, and takes him under his wing. The rest of the film is a fever-dream of ’80s music, and smoke-filled billiard bars – and it gets better with every viewing.
What’s so great about this movie, from a watch perspective, is just how associated the cast and crew are with iconic timepieces. Newman, as mentioned here, there, and everywhere (underrated Beatles song), is synonymous with the Rolex Daytona. Martin Scorsese is a current Rolex brand ambassador, and has often been seen wearing the iconic Day-Date, also known as the “President.” Tom Cruise? Oh, he’s a “film movies in outer space”, “hang off the wings of airplanes,” ”jump on a couch on Oprah,” “do all my own stunts” … ambassador. But for what it’s worth, he’s been known to wear a watch or two in the past (like his TAG Heuer in Jerry Maguire).
For this film, Paul Newman breaks from his Bund strap, Daytona vibe, instead wearing a conservative 36mm Rolex Datejust – what appears to be the ref. 16200 – on a jubilee bracelet. His has an off-white, almost ivory-colored dial with a smooth bezel – meaning it’s all steel (no gold for Eddie Felson – it’d be too prone to scratches around the pool table). The watch is visible on Newman’s wrist for almost the entire film, which makes sense since so many of the shots are of hands and wrists – it’s a movie about pool after all.
There’s a 24-year gap between the Hustler and The Color of Money. Felson doesn’t wear a Datejust in the original film, which means it’s left to our imagination how his character landed such an iconic watch on his felt-resting wrists. My money is on him buying it after a big tournament victory. We all need one great watch, and this is his.
There are almost too many good watch spotting scenes to reference – like the one where Felson approaches Lauria at his day job (in a toy store) and convinces him to hit the road for an upcoming nine-ball tournament. Seated in a makeshift break room in the store’s warehouse, Felson has a pressed grey suit, burgundy turtleneck, aviator sunglasses, killer mustache … and the glistening Datejust on his wrist.
This movie has really stood the test of time, and the watch has been something of a tastemaker. Horological legend Aurel Bachs wrote a piece not too long ago, recalling how this movie led to his falling in love with this very Datejust even going so far as naming it the “Eddie Felson.” It just goes to show you Paul Newman’s power as a style icon. He was – and is – way more than the racing chronograph that took his name.
When We’re Watching
The best watch movies are the ones that feature the timepiece in the very opening scene. Right after the Scorsese-narrated credits fade to black, we find Felson seated at the bar of a pool hall, doing a weird sensual whiskey tasting with a female bartender. It seems, in his post-pool hustling years, he’s turned to a life of wholesale alcohol peddling.
The two of them begin to bicker over what kind of omelet Felson once made for her. Turns out it was sour cream and caviar, which – well, I’ll reserve judgment until I try one. Throughout this peculiar debate, Felson’s arm is resting on the bar [00:04:38] allowing for a full view of his jubilee bracelet Datejust. With the watch, his spread collar shirt, and dark grey suit – we get a full understanding of Eddie Felson right from the jump.
Soon after this scene, as Phil Collins’ “One More Night” blares out over the bar speakers, Felson hears the crack of balls on the pool table behind him. Startled, he notices the energetic Lauria taking command over the table. After a few minutes of examination, Felson invites Lauria and his girlfriend out for dinner. It’s at this meal that he begins to pitch Lauria on becoming a full-time player, and, his protege. He sees greatness in him – maybe a little bit of his former self.
He tells Lauria that being a student of the game is akin to being a student of human behavior. Cruise’s Lauria has Felson’s watch in his hand during this conversation. Felson then bets the dinner bill that he can leave with a woman at the bar in two minutes. Through a little trickery, he gets the woman to agree to leave with him, before returning to the table to announce his victory. At this moment we get a clear view of the watch in Lauria’s hand as Felson says, “Human moves, kid. You study the watch but I study you. You get the check.” He then takes back the watch, and throws cash on the table for a cab, and leaves. It doesn’t get more Paul Newman than that.
The Color of Money (starring Paul Newman, and Tom Cruise) is directed by Martin Scorsese, with props by Jeffrey R. Renfrow. It’s available to rent on iTunes or Amazon.