The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen from a novel by Walter Tevis
Rossen Films/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Fast Eddie: You sure don’t leave much when you miss, do you, Fats?

Minnesota Fats: That’s what the game’s all about

I like this film more every time I see it.  That hardly seems possible since I have always loved it.

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has the charm and skills to make an ace pool hustler. His giant ego drives him to prove he is the best at the game.  This will involve beating Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in an epic match-up.  Eddie starts out strong but does not have the stamina or character to close the deal.  Later, he is courted by gambler and “manager” Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) who offers him a 25% share of the profits for any games he arranges.  Eddie is insulted both by the low-ball offer and by Bert’s opinion that he is a born loser and refuses.

Eddie then falls on hard times and turns to small-time hustles to barely support himself.  It is then that he meets Sarah Packard, a lame world-weary alcoholic.  She is rightly leery at getting involved with a man almost as screwed-up as she is.  They fall in love any way.

After falling on even worse times, Eddie is ready to accept Bert’s help.  Suddenly, he thinks he is on the road back to the high life.  He is very much mistaken.

Just reading the cast list should give some idea of how powerful this film is.  This is probably my favorite Newman performance among many strong contenders. Scott, Gleason and Laurie also richly deserved their Oscar nominations.  On this viewing, the cinematography was the real revelation.  It is simply stunning in the Blu-Ray print. Rossen’s pool halls and their hangers-on are masterfully captured.

I love the fact that Scott’s character keeps lecturing Newman’s about his lack of character when he has the least of anyone in the story.  I feel enormous empathy and sympathy for Laurie’s.

The Hustler won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black and White and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (Scott); Best Supporting Actor (Gleason); Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.


2 thoughts on “The Hustler (1961)

  1. Yeah, the cinematography here is simply stunning. I wish I had bought a blu-ray rather than a pedestrian DVD. Together with the music it sets the perpect mood.
    Eddie and Sarah are such a poor match. Both of them need and require 100% support from the other and are unable and unwilling to give it.

    • It’s ironic how Sarah knew the relationship was a bad idea from the first minute but allowed herself to be sucked in any way.

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