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The Hustler

The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. ScottEditorial Review of  The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott  courtesy of Amazon.com

 In The Hustler,  Paul Newman shines as cocky poolroom hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson in Robert Rossen’s atmospheric adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel. Newman’s Felson is a swaggering pool shark punk who takes on  the king of the poolroom, Minnesota Fats (a cool, assured  Jackie Gleason  in his most understated performance). After losing big and crashing into a void of self-pity, Eddie meets down-and-out Sarah (Piper Laurie in a delicate performance), an alcoholic blue blood who’s dropped into Eddie’s world of dingy bars and seedy poolrooms. Eddie regains his confidence and attracts the attention of a shifty, calculating promoter, Bert Gordon (George C. Scott at his most heartless), who offers to bring Eddie into the big money — but at what cost? Rossen brings his film to life with the easy pace of a pool game, giving his actors room to explore their characters and develop into a razor-sharp ensemble. Eugen Shufftan earned an Academy Award for his shadowing black-and-white cinematography, as did art directors Harry Horner and Gene Callahan for their deceivingly simple set designs. Even in the daylight this film seems to be smothered by night, lit by the dim glow of a bar lamp or the overhead glare of a pool-table light, an appropriate environment for this tale of one man’s struggle with his soul and his self-esteem. Newman returned as an older, wiser, cagier Felson 25 years later in Martin Scorsese’s Color of Money. — €”Sean Axmaker

Trivia for  The Hustler  (1961), starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason

  • When Fast Eddie prepares for his first matchup against Minnesota Fats, his manager sits down in front of a poster depicting Willie Mosconi, 14-time world champion in billiards from 1941 to 1957. About ten minutes later, Willie himself makes a cameo as the guy who holds onto the bet money. His character name is also Willie.
  • All the pool shots in the movie are performed by the actors themselves (Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason) except one: the mass shot (cue ball sends two object balls into the same pocket), performed by Willie Mosconi.
  • Fast Eddie is from Oakland, California.
  • When first approached to play the role of Fast Eddie Felsen, Paul Newman couldn’t accept it because he was scheduled to begin filming Two for the Seesaw (1962) with Elizabeth Taylor. When Taylor was held up with the filming of Cleopatra (1963), Seesaw was postponed and Paul was able to do this film.
  • Cliff Robertson lost the role that went to Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon having already declined the part.
  • While at the Kentucky Derby, the race announcer lists some of the horses racing. One of the horses named is :Stroke of Luck”. “Stroke of Luck: was one of the titles considered for the film as a result of studio fears that the title — €œThe Hustler — € would create negative connotations with prostitution.
  • There’s a misconception that the character Minnesota Fats is based on the real Minnesota Fats (Rudolf Wanderone Jr.). Actually, the character came before the real pool champion.
  • Kim Novak told Larry King on his television show that she turned down the role of Sarah Packard eventually played by Piper Laurie.
  • The words Sarah writes on the mirror are “perverted”€, “twisted” and “crippled”.