If you haven’t seen it:
The Hustler was the movie that made Paul Newman a superstar. He plays Fast Eddie, a cocky young pool shark, who makes his living playing pool for cash.
Eddie struggles with bitterness and depression. He forms a relationship with Sarah, who has problems of her own. He also becomes prey to the “businessman” Bert Gordon, who wants to exploit Eddie’s talents. Fast Eddie’s dream though, is to challenge and beat the greatest pool player of all, Minnesota Fats.
The Hustler is a dark, humorless, movie – it might not be to everyone’s taste. However, if you are in the mood for a powerful story of obsession, self-destruction, greed, and redemption, you would find it hard to beat this atmospheric and beautifully filmed classic.
If you have seen it:
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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
Fast Eddie is the hustler – he challenges people to play pool for cash without revealing to them that he is in fact a world class player, and they have no chance against him. He arrives in New York and seeks out the legendary Minnesota Fats (who is regarded as the best player in the world), and challenges him to a match. After hours of playing, Eddie is well in front, but he refuses to quit while he is ahead, and eventually the drinking and lack of sleep get to him, and he loses all of his winnings.
Dejected and broke, Eddie hooks up with a beautiful but crippled alcoholic, Sarah. Their relationship starts as a casual fling, but it develops into something quite tender. They become even closer when Eddie has to stop playing for a while, after he has his thumbs broken by some bad losers.
Eventually though, he goes back on the road, backed by ruthless “businessman” Bert. Eddie, Bert, and Sarah travel to Kentucky to play a rich socialite at billiards. On the trip, Sarah pleads with Eddie to abandon this lifestyle, calling it “perverted, twisted,and crippled”. When he refuses, and Bert further humiliates her, she kills herself.
Eddie goes back to play Minnesota Fats again. He is a different man now, clearly deeply affected by Sarah’s death. This time when Eddie takes the lead, we know he is not going to throw it away. Fats realizes this too, and concedes. Before leaving the pool hall, there is a final confrontation between Eddie and Bert, and both admit that they are ashamed of their actions towards Sarah.
Steve Sunday Says:
A lot of people really love this movie. You can see why – we can all enjoy the macho posturing and seedy pool halls without actually having to go there. George C Scott is a menacing presence on screen; Jackie Gleason nails the role of Minnesota Fats; Piper Laurie is charmingly vulnerable and very easy on the eye. It’s Paul Newman’s should-have-been-Oscar-winning performance that gets everyone excited though.
…everyone that is, except Mrs Sunday. She thought his acting was way over the top, and everything about him from his accent to the way he smoked a cigarette was awkward. Mrs Sunday got bored of watching the self-centred, girlfriend-beating loser, and she fell asleep and missed the last half hour.
Now this response is very different to the usual film critic’s opinion, and it got me thinking that maybe this is just a critic’s film, or maybe it is even just a guy’s film? I must confess that there were moments in the movie that made me cringe a little – Newman’s cockiness did seem contrived at times, and was it ever okay to slap a girl who talks back to you? Also I was not happy about the portrayal of suicide as an act of revenge. I think Mrs Sunday might have a point.
On a lighter note, the other thing that occurred to me about half way through the movie, was how Simon Cowell seems to have modelled his career and personality on Bert Gordon. Bert has no talent of his own, but earns a fortune exploiting the talent of others. Eddie’s first match against Minnesota Fats was effectively an X-Factor audition, after which Bert insults Eddie, before offering him a job in which Eddie does all the hard work while Bert keeps the money. Damn you Simon Cowell!
Trivia Trish Says:
A sequel, The Color of Money was made 25 years later. Eddie (Paul Newman again) befriends Vincent (Tom Cruise) a brilliant but cocky young pool player who reminds him of his younger self, and they take up hustling together. This sequel is not nearly as cold and downbeat as the original. It is an enjoyable watch, and a satisfying end to The Hustler story.
Chris the Critic says:
Although the cinematography is impressive (those smoky pool halls do look great in widescreen black and white) The Hustler is really a character study, and the quality of the acting reflects that. The characters that are brought to life by the superb cast include some really unlikable ones. Indeed, The Hustler is a bitter and cynical portrayal of human nature, and of a world where the selfish prevail, and loyalty means nothing.
Main Cast and Crew:
Paul Newman … Eddie Felson
Piper Laurie … Sarah Packard
George C. Scott … Bert Gordon
Jackie Gleason … Minnesota Fats
Directed by Robert Rossen