Film Spotlight: The Hustler

My friend Nuwan Sen is hosting the “Essential 60’s blogathon”. It offered me the opportunity to highlight a perfect film, right up there with On the Waterfront, Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, and Shawshenk Redemption.  Yes, it’s really that good.

I’ve written about The Hustler and The Color of Money before. If you missed it, be my guest and read all about it:  https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/scorsese-paul-newman-tom-cruise/

The formula for a great film requires a strong script, great acting, and sharp cinematography, Music always matters as well as creating the culture of the setting–production design, costumes, and sound. The Hustler has it all.

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Fast Eddie wants to become a pool hustler. He challenges the best in New York City, “Minnesota Fats” played by Jackie Gleason. Gleason was an accomplished pool player and the shots seen on the screen were made by him. Even though he was on the screen for only 20 minutes, Jackie Gleason’s presence conveyed the power and cool detachment of a champion.

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George C. Scott played the stake horse, the pimp, the devil, who backed neophyte Fast Eddie Felson (Newman). His manipulations caused havoc between Eddie’s professional life and his relationship with his girlfriend, Sarah, played by Piper Laurie.

What a tragic character. Sarah was an ex-prostitute who tries to convince Eddie to have a meaningful, functional relationship. Eddie desires her and pool and he finds himself in the middle. Sarah sees how destructive Burt Gordon (Scott) is and tries to warn him with disastrous results. Rarely had an alcoholic, female character presented on the screen from the early 60s evoke greater compassion and authenticity (I can only think of 1962, Days of Wine and Roses, with Lee Remick).

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IMDb and DVD Special Features Trivia

Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills. For four months he practiced–most  shots are Paul Newman. His tutor? No other than 14 World Champion Willie Marsconi who is the silver fox holding the bet money in the movie, and a poster lines the wall of the pool hall. The masse shot (pop the cue ball on the top and it will spin around the balls) were made in the film by Marsconi. Got a minute? Watch it here:

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George C. Scott refused his Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category because he didn’t believe in actors competing against each other unless if were playing the same role. But when he lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to George Chakiris in West Side Story (1961), it solidified his convictions that Hollywood was political and biased and led to Scott rejecting his 1970 win in Patton.

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Robert Rossen was a pool shark himself as a young man. For his film, he hired real street thugs and enrolled them in the Screen Actors Guild so that they could be used as extras. Rossen was heavily involved in the “Red Scare” witch-hunt during the 1950s. He was a member of the Communist Party from 1937 to 1945 and blacklisted by HUAC. After refusing to name names, after being subpoenaed in 1953, he relented to save his career and implicated 57 people as having had communist affiliations. As a result of his cooperation, he was permitted to work again, though he did not return to Hollywood. Ouch! Not a friend of Arthur Miller, no doubt, who went on to write the 1953 play The Crucible and give his approval to the 1996 film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

The Hustler’s strength lies in the culture of men at that time period. This was a time when a man was supposed to be tough, self-centered, kind of the castle, chauvinistic and homophobic. A generalization, but films frequently reveal the expectations of society and this film does that. I admire toughness while cringing from it as a female. In the 50s and 60s, the strong, wide-shoulders, square chin, John Wayne stereotype was alive and copied, for better or worse.

Paul Newman was nominated but did not win the Best Oscar award. He’d have to wait for an honorary one for several more decades. He is the prime reason you should watch The Hustler. His energy and expressive performance is as strong as Brando’s in On the Waterfront.

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Don’t forget to check out Nuwan Sen’s blog. He specializes in Audrey Hepburn and classic films. His posts are smart and interesting:  http://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/

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What do you like best about The Hustler?

38 thoughts on “Film Spotlight: The Hustler

Add yours

  1. My goodness, Newman is such a beautiful man. I’ve been curious to check this out since Kevin (aka Jack Deth) guest reviewed this one for me. Nice one Cindy!

    1. Thanks, Ruth. I know Kevin loves it. I hope he stops round and gives his two cents. 😉 We certainly share the same love for high quality films. Newman–gosh he beats any actor around today for integrity, beauty, quality acting. Even Toby 😉

  2. Great analysis and some really interesting facts here. Unfortunately I haven’t seen this movie yet. Now I want to watch it even more.
    I agree with what you said about Lee Remick’s performance in ‘Days of Wine and Roses’, a truly heart rending performance, and such a tragically beautiful movie.
    Thanks for being part of ‘The Essential 60’s Blogathon’.
    Cheers
    Nuwan Sen

    1. Thanks, Nuwan Sen. Yes, Lee’s performance, and Jack Lemmon’s were top rate. I thought of Lemmon as a comic actor and that’s the film that made my mouth drop. What a talent. I look forward to reading your blogathon!

    1. Considering your high standards and your breadth of knowledge, I bet you will be amazed. Consider ‘Cool Hand Luke’ –you would love that one– and the Hustler. They are two of his best.

  3. Now this is what a timeless classic looks like. Every aspect of The Hustler is as resonant today as it was 50 years ago. Great characters, gorgeous cinematography, and some excellent acting from a wonderful cast.
    I do like the shady milieu of this movie, where characters have names like Minnesota Fats and you can get your fingers broken if you’re unlucky enough to hustle the wrong guy.
    Paul Newman was electrifying in this period wasn’t he? The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Hombre and Hud are all bona fide classics!

  4. All 3 men were classics in their own right, so the casting was a stroke of genius. Thanks for bringing it all back so clearly.
    [off topic – hope you don’t mind a correction, but you call George C. Scott, George Patton under the eighth picture down]

  5. Fast Eddie: Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool.
    Minnesota Fats: So do you, Fast Eddie.
    Whoever thot you could make a great movie out of Pool?
    George C. was great in there too.

    Eddie Felson (The Color of Money / 1986) “Hey – I’m back.”
    Director: Martin Scorsese … a sequel ? never really thot so.

  6. Hi, Cindy:

    Excellent choice, dissertation and clips!

    This is one of the first films I guest reviewed over at Ruth’s FlixChatter. Simply because it’s such a dynamic, moody and atmospheric film.

    Paul Newman is superb as the anxious, angry outsider trying to make a name for himself. But Jackie Gleason is even better as Minnesota Fats! Master of his domain and all he sees. It’s such a treat watching him waltz fluidly around the pool table. While Newman comments on Fats’ “Pudgy little violin player’s fingers.” Seeing angles for shots that Newman’s “Fast Eddie” has yet to discover.

    A very solid film of the 1960s. Whose smoky, shadowy second floor “Ame’s” pool hall set and coffee house, Be Bop soundtrack become major uncredited players. Also very high marks for George C. Scott being quiet and ominously scary. And Piper Laurie’s damaged, fragile Laura. Completing one the few perfectly cast films of that decade!

    And yes. You see something new with each viewing.

    Very well and nicely done!

    1. Howdy Kevin! Ruth mentioned your splendid review so I was hoping you would visit me and share your thoughts. I’m glad we share the same assessment over this perfect film. It transcends the decades for me becoming a film whose brilliance earns it a top spot in the galaxy. 🙂

  7. I love this movie. It’s got three greats: Newman, Scott and Gleason. How much better can something get? George C. Scott has been one of my favorite actors since his role as George S. Patton. What a movie. And what a tremendous actor Scott was.

    I had the privilege of seeing him on stage about ten prior prior to his death. He was playing Darrow in ‘Inherit the Wind.’ I was front and center. Mesmerizing blue eyes, great energy on stage. Convincing. Tremendous talent.

    1. Hi Kate! Wow! That sounds like a great experience. He sure grew into that role — Patton — it was on TV just the other day and I re-watched Patton. It thought it great how you could see his lust for power and greatness and admire him for his strength. But like all egomaniacs, his title ‘blood and guts’ reputation was earned through the lives of soldiers. His headstrong personality was like a gambler at a card table on crack.

  8. When The Hustler came out, I was spending too much time hanging around the local pool hall replete with spittoons and cigar smoke. That was in the day before pool became gentrified. The Hustler felt right.

      1. It was hot when he rolled into town on the Continental Trailways bus. Someone famous had drunk a malted there years before so it had to be good enough for the Slicker. But no, the Slicker didn’t know anyone famous. He was only there because his money had run out. The hotel where the bus stopped was too expensive so he found a room by the week a block away.

        It didn’t take long to find the local pool hall – on the third floor of a building on a corner uptown. First class in a one-street town and far from the flyblown roadside jukes where he had tried to make a living. He was in the big time now. With his hair slick with pomade and wearing his best wrinkled white shirt, he only had two, and his faded black pants, he went off to make his dinner in the dusty twilight of a pool hall.

        He did all right picking up a nickel here, a dime there and very rarely a quarter. The balls were only a nickel a rack, cigarettes a quarter. The pool hall opened in the morning at eight and closed at midnight, earlier on slow nights. He joshed with the local talent and told lies of the many girls he had left behind in Missouri. He became everybody’s friend, and they told him that when the Mexican farm laborers got paid on Saturday the place would be hopping. The farm boys would also be in town. That night, he had a steak in the restaurant on first floor of the building next door. Golconda was only two nights away.

        Friday night was good. He picked up enough for next week’s room rent or a bus ticket out of town. Saturday, he slept in the better to prepare for the day. He rinsed out his two shirts and underwear and hung them in the window to dry. He polished his shoes with pomade. With a flash roll of a five and two ones, the rest of his money hidden in his shoe, he walked with confidence the block to the pool hall. This was his day. He just knew it.

        They were there drinking beer, waiting for him. They had money in their pockets. He just knew it. The farm boys who had been slinging hay bales, the Braceros who had spent the week weeding beets – they were there. He could smell their money and he wanted it. Needed it bad to get back on the road. Maybe he would go on out to California where there was real money. Maybe he would go to Chicago. Who knew? But now, he needed their money.

        The old timers greeted him as friend. Why not? He had been hanging out there for almost a week now. He bought a beer and joined them in the spectator seats watching the table action. Waiting for the evening to settle in. Watching the players, listening for the bigmouths, the braggarts. Waiting.

        He started slow. Little bets. Nothing to alarm. Just a friendly game with a little interest, something to make it a bit more fun. Who cared when you had money in your pocket. Lose a game, win a game or two. Staying always just a little bit ahead . . . maybe more than a little bit ahead as the evening’s players drank more beer. After all, tomorrow was Sunday. No one had to go work. A bet here, a bet there. Who was keeping track? The Slicker was making his score . . . . .

        Suddenly someone yelled “The son of a bitch has suckered us in. He’s taken all our money. Get him!” The Slicker dropped his cue and ran for the door leading to the stairs, but he was blocked by a bunch of Mexican kids who weren’t supposed to be there. They were too young, as were many of the others, to be in a place that sold beer. Pulling a straight razor from his pocket, the Slicker screamed “Get out of my way or I’ll cut you!” A flying pool ball hit him in the side of the head and a pool cue slammed against his shin. He lurched and fell to the floor.

        The crowd held him down while hands dug greedily in his pocket for their money. After being kicked and hit with pool cues, four of the losers grabbed him. With one holding each of his legs and arms, they threw him through the swinging doors of the pool hall and down the three-story flight of stairs. Those old buildings had high ceilings. He flew over the first nine or ten stairs before landing and crashing down the remainder.

        No one went after him. They didn’t have to. They could the sound from the stairwell of him rolling and banging down the stairs. The stairs were steep. It didn’t take long. Afterwards, they heard him moaning for a while. There was some crying and half-hearted shouts of “I’ll be back to get you bastards.”

        No one ever saw the Slicker again. His landlord found his room empty. An early Sunday morning Continental Trailways bus made its usual stop.

          1. Yes, the Slicker was real. The story really happened long ago . . . . 55 years ago. I didn’t witness it. I left several hours before all the excitement. Only heard it second hand from a friend with whom I used to pal around. I have no idea how old the Slicker was, but I suppose he was in his mid-twenties. He was a skinny kid, not too clean, from some little town in southern Missouri. Today, who knows, we might say he was living the dream . . . .

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