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.
1961, Robert Rossen’s masterpiece
Eddie, hot-headed pool shark
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.
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.
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).
IMDb and DVD Special Features Trivia
Willie Marsconi, mentor
Willie in the film, background
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:
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.
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.
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/
What do you like best about The Hustler?