Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler won't leave viewers behind the eight ball.

But be warned film fans. This great film from director Robert Rossen (All The King's Men, The Roaring Twenties) is bleak.

Eddie Falco (Paul Newman) is a young and talented pool shark teamed with mentor Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick).

Fast Eddie is keen to knock champ Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) off his pedestal. Falco is a little too cocky for his own good when he gets his desired showdown with the pool hall king. He ignores Charlie's advice and loses the chance to pocket a whack of money.

Falco decides to go his own way and crosses paths with Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie). She has her own suitcase of troubles. Sarah's an alcoholic, is messed up by her father's abandonment when she was a youngster and may be turning tricks to help pay the bills.

Eddie and Sarah hit it off, although she wonders if their relationship will last when the cash runs out. Now trying to put down roots with Sarah, Eddie is reduced to hustling small amounts of cash to put food on the table.

With Charlie gone, Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) offers to bankroll Eddie's second effort to topple Minnesota Fats. Scott is fantastic as an amoral figure who makes plenty of cash gambling. Packard is leery of Fast Eddie's plans to hit the road again. She fears she'll be abandoned again.

The Hustler boasts several strong performances. Gleason, here five years after The Honeymooners, reeks disdain for the young buck out to top him. He's the king of cool who keeps his air of calm well into a marathon pool session against Falco that runs more than a day.

Newman, who scored his first big hit in 1956 with Somebody Up There Likes Me, delivers one of his career best performances. He's brash, confident and willing to put the love of his life at risk for the chance to be king.

The Hustler was nominated for nine Oscars and won two for art direction and cinematography.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: That's boxer Jake LaMoitta as a bartender.

Piper Laurie was Aunt Em in 1985's Return to Oz.

Paul Newman on The Hustler: "I had a good feeling about this one right from the start."
Source: Paul Newman: An Illustrated Biography

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