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The Hustler (1961)

They Called Him "Fast Eddie"

Starring:

George C. Scott

Jackie Gleason

Jake LaMotta

Michael Constantine

Murray Hamilton

Myron McCormick

Paul NewmanPaul Newman

Piper LauriePiper Laurie

Directed by:

Robert Rossen

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 134 minutes

US Certificate: Approved UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

The assassination of JFK, the student massacre in Tiananmen Square and the failure of the Academy to award The Hustler with a meaningful Oscar in 1961, are all rightly judged to be amongst the biggest injustices of the Twentieth Century. The Hustler was the extremely successful spearhead of a movement trying to shake the US film industry out of a reactionary Cold War lethargy that just piped on about American family values at every opening. It’s not really a film about pool (a good job as pool is just not that interesting and the film itself is in black and white) but a film about a man with a talent trying beat the establishment and his own self-destructive tendancies.

The Hustler is “Fast” Eddie Felson (Newman), a small time pool shark who spends his time touring bars conning lowlifes out of a few dollars a pop. His cocky bravado and self destructive attitude leads him to challenge the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason) to a high-stakes match which he loses in a forty-hour marathon battle. After spurning his big break (geddit?), Eddie loses all his money and confidence and hits rock bottom. Following a low period in his life he builds himself back up towards a rematch with the help of his girlfriend (Laurie) and cut-throat manager Bert (Scott).

Robert Rossen’s gritty film succeeds in basking in the grey area between good and bad. The character of Fast Eddie is never glorified as a shining light in the seedy bars of urban America. He too, like those he beats, is in the pub during the day – always a sure sign that you have a problem. He’s cocky and reckless, drinks too much and needlessly jeopardises his chances of success throughout the film. Each of the supporting cast work to open up different facets of Eddie’s personality to create a real character arc as the film progresses. His disabled girlfriend Sarah is the heart of the film and softens him and makes him stronger emotionally when the final showdown comes, whilst Bert, feeds on Eddie’s ambition and ego to make money. Newman, Gleason, Scott and Laurie put in fantastic performances that were the making of the film and all were duly rewarded with Oscar nominations (although a stubborn Scott turned his down).

It's Got: Four amazing performances, great characterisation, pool in black and white

It Needs: A posthumous Oscar.

DVD Extras Commentary, trick shot analysis, trailer, trailers of other classics of the era, behind the scenes still gallery. Pretty special. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

Casino Royale, Kingpin, The Color of Money

Summary

At least four Oscar-worthy performances elevate The Hustler above a mere sports drama to a gritty character driven classic.