It could have been so much better.
That’s my seven-word summary of The Baltimore Bullet, a 1980 billiards movie, directed by Robert Ellis Miller, that blatantly cribs from The Hustler, without providing any of that film’s richness and depth.
First, let’s start with the major league cast. The billiards movie stars impeccably-coifed tough guy James Coburn as Nick Casey (aka “The Baltimore Bullet”), past Oscar nominee Omar Sharif as “The Deacon” (the Minnesota Fats equivalent), and past Oscar nominee Ronee Blakley as Carolina Red. So why couldn’t this talented trio breathe life into this tepid film?
Next, let’s turn to the pool. The opening sequence (shown below) of multiple trick shots, made by pool legend Mike Sigel, according to his official website, is off the hook. And Sigel is but one of nearly a dozen pool greats who appear in the film. Others include Willie Mosconi, Steve Mizerak, Jimmie Mataya, Lou Butera, Irving D. Crane, Allen Hopkins, Pete Margo, Ray Martin, James Rempe, and Richie Florence.
On top of that, the movie is located in New Orleans (my favorite city of all time and where I spent countless evenings shooting stick), and features an extended funeral procession second line from the legendary Olympia Brass Band.
It should have been so much better.
Unfortunately, great cast + great pool players + great location does NOT make a great billiards movie. After the first 30 minutes, the film sags under its own weight of contrived subplots, including random gangsters, a moronic hitman, and a senseless romance.
Finally, the true kiss of death for this movie is the final scene. Even amateur students of pool movies know it ends with the final showdown. Think Fast Eddie Felson and the Fat Man (in The Hustler). Think Mars Callahan and Ricky Schroder’s characters (in Poolhall Junkies). But, in this movie, after a rather drawn-out buildup to the final match between the Baltimore Bullet and the Deacon, the director glosses over the game. He shows a few initial shots…and then — bam! — game over. Talk about an epic table scratch.
It took me a while to locate “The Baltimore Bullet,” since it was not available as a DVD in the US and I wasn’t ready to buy it on VHS. However, thanks to Gary Frerking, who responded to my question in the forum of VegasBilliardsBuzz.com, I found the entire movie accessible online at YouTube. Enjoy!