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.