Movie Project #4: The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The Hustler [1961]
Director: Robert Rossen
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

I am ashamed to admit that I know very little about Paul Newman. I know the story of Newman’s Own, and I have seen him in a couple of films (Slap Shot, Road to Perdition), but outside of that my knowledge is extremely lacking. After watching The Hustler, I can’t help but feel that Paul Newman was the fucking man.

Seriously, this is one hell of a character study that just so happens to use the game of pool as its backdrop. Newman is just amazing, as are the rest of the main cast: Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie.

As a small-time pool hustler, “Fast” Eddie Felston (Newman) has one goal: to beat the best in the game, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). After a quick meet-and-greet, the two square off in an epic battle. Eddie gets the upper hand early, almost effortlessly swindling thousands of dollars from his opponent. Several hours and countless drinks later, Fats takes control and wins back nearly dollar that he had lost earlier in the evening. Defeated and now flat broke, Eddie has seemingly hit rock bottom.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

It is at this point that Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), an alcoholic college girl who is full of her own problems. An unlikely duo, the two of them hit it off and build a relationship. However, when fellow gambler Bert Gordon offers to take Eddie on the road, things get rocky and the true colors of all involved start to come out. As much as the movie is about Fast Eddie, the stories of the other three main characters are just as important. With such great performances from all of them, it’s hard not to get attached to their characters no matter how flawed they are.

I enjoyed The Hustler quite a bit. Pool wasn’t as big of a focus as I thought it would be, and in fact the movie is just a fantastic piece of storytelling. I thought the first half of the film was a little slow, but once it got into fleshing out the main characters it became rather enthralling.

Two things I determined after watching this movie: 1) I need to watch its sequel, The Color of Money. 2) I really need to see more of Paul Newman’s work. He really blew me away here.


19 thoughts on “Movie Project #4: The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

  1. Scott Lawlor says:

    I loved the Hustler when I saw it, but that was a long time ago! Really need a re watch, lets just hope I can catch it on TV some where.

    ‘Paul Newman was the fucking man.’

    I second that statement

  2. Dan Heaton says:

    It’s great that you got to see The Hustler. I just caught it a few years ago and was blown away. The Color of Money is a much different film but still worth seeing, especially for Newman and Scorsese’s direction. Nice post.

  3. thinkvisual says:

    Newman was also a director for a few years, with a nice sensitivity for handling actors, mostly his wife, Joanne Woodward. Any movie before Mtv and the good tv commercials out of the mid-60s will seem slow, except for a few done by Howard Hawks and a couple of directors out of the 30s.

    Did you know Breathless was an outgrowth of Bonjour Tristesse? Put Weekend on another list, if you get a chance. Godard was incredible in his classic period!

  4. Jules M. says:

    Great review here. I was bored and clicking through your archives and noticed this one. This was one of the first movies I ever wrote a review for way back in (I want to say) 2006ish… such a good movie and performance, I’m a sucker for anything with Newman in it, and as the above comment said, Pool Hall Junkies is good too, although waaaay below the level of this.

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