The seedy atmosphere of the pool hall was never better portrayed than in Robert Rossen’s 1961 drama The Hustler.
Starring Paul Newman as “Fast Eddie” Felson, a small-time pool hustler who wishes to break into the big-time of professional high-stakes pool wagering by challenging the best player in the country, the legendary Minnesota Fats.
Eddie’s first encounter with Fats ends with him being thoroughly beaten after well over a day of non-stop playing despite being ahead at one stage.
Afterwards, Eddie meets Sarah, an alcoholic crippled woman whereupon he starts a relationship. In the meantime, he also encounters Bert Gordon a professional gambler who had seen him lose to Fats. Bert later tells Eddie that he has talent as a pool player but has no character -a “born loser”. but nevertheless offers to stake him.
Sickened by Eddie’s obsession with pool and the world he inhabits, and humiliated by Bert, Sarah commits suicide which devastates Eddie.
Returning again to challenge Fats, Eddie finally beats him forcing him to quit and despite threats by Bert, Eddie rebukes him, compliments Fats and walks out.
I’ve been endlessly fascinated by this film, in the way it captures the obsession of one man who sacrifices his friends and the woman he loves to achieve his goal but in the end realising it wasn’t worth the sacrifice. Paul Newman has never been better in arguably his best film performance. Ironically he won the coveted Best Actor Oscar he so desired 25 years later for playing the same character in the forgettable sequel The Color Of Money.
Supporting Newman is George C. Scott who’s terrific as the manipulative and cold gambler Bert and Jackie Gleason brings a real presence as Fats.
I did find the romanic sub-plot somewhat less interesting than the dramas in the pool halls, mainly because the black and white widescreen cinematography is simply outstanding in engaging the viewer in the machinations of pool.
11 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #42”
I haven’t been a fan of the good-looking Paul Newman – so I like him in this role
I think it suits him
Haven’t seen it for such a long time, re-watched it after The Colour of Money. Wouldn’t be made today of course, too slow. Not that I think it is, like cooking, it takes time to develop character. Most movies these days are the equivalent of fast food, all tastes the same. For me Paul Newman was best in Cool Hand Luke. Jackie Gleason in his best performance. I love these old movies. Recently watched Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows and Ridley Scott’s The Duelists. Both brilliant. I seem to recall they were both debut movies.
Another Paul Newman Cracker – but this character is understandable. The whole set of dynamics is fascinating including the romantic sub plot – especially where he explains to Sarah how he feel when he plays pool – like a jockey winning and in control – how many people can say that.
The romantic sub plot offers the contrast of man out there hunting and providing and telling his challenges to his wife/partner.
The scene where his thumbs are broken and he staggers to Sarahs was memorable.
This movie showed step by step how this happens – this life.
Sarah was a hero in this film.
Maybe he got to being the best but only if he could share it – make some one proud of what they had goen through together to get there .
BTW – I tried to pay poole like Fast Ed – ended up looking like Woody Allan
Oh the Horror, the Horror
Thanks for that WolfmanOz.
Doesn’t time fly while your living life.. lol.
Paul Newman is one of my favourite actors. Absense of Malice, The Verdict, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are all great movies.
Rolex should thank him as well. His wife bought him a Rolex Daytona in the early seventies for around $300. The Daytona wasn’t the most popular Rolex at the time, however that changed somewhat, when Newman was regularly seen with it out and about. When his Daytona went to auction in 2017, it sold for a (then) record $17.8 million.
Cool Hand Luke was another Paul Newman Classic.
Gosh, remember when Hollyweird used to make great movies that weren’t non-binary woke adaptations of comics that no-one read.
I barely can.
Thanks Wolfman for the reminder of what once was great cinema.
Not sure if you would wish to review it but an ‘olden’ movie that has stuck in my mind is “The 39 Steps”.
Made in 1935 by Hitchcock and I still remember the suspense from watching it back in the 1960’s.
Hi NFA– I’ll give The 39 Steps another look, I haven’t watched it for years.
It was always my favourite Hitchcock film from his early British years.
Thanks Wolfie – there are few more enjoyable activities on this planet than playing pool.
I was a pool shark for many, many moons (been playing since I could see over the table top) and it just sets me at ease. Especially in a smoky dingy back room in a pub with goils and R ‘n’R just blasting.
Beginner hint – always try to play at least three shots ahead. My table’s pockets were narrow and unforgiving, so much so that I earned the nickname, “Rabz”*.
You’d go and play in a pub and the pockets were cavernous. Four or five shots ahead every game. 🙂
*Long story, but has been posted on the Cat before.