Director: Robert Rossen
Cast includes: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason
Americana Season with Introduction from Ben Newell
134 Mins / 1961 / USA

Ben Newell's third choice in our Americana season is Robert Rossen's monochrome sports classic, The Hustler.

This existential drama focuses on Fast Eddie Felsen (Paul Newman) and his adventures in the world of professional pool. Fast Eddie is a young hopeful on his way to challenging Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) for his world title. When he starts getting feelings for a woman he gets into a dilemma.

"The film propelled Newman into the first rank of Hollywood actors, but is also revealing to see how important the other actors are. Interestingly enough The Hustler was made at a time before big-money stars like Newman were required to appear in almost every shot. The dynamism of Newman's performance and that of the film also comes from the relationships with the support players such as Piper Laurie's Sarah, whose story is as rounded as Fast Eddie's. Here is a portrayal of a woman not in simple terms; the character of Sarah has purpose and layers to her personality. The genuine core of the movie is not between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats (an elegantly physical Jackie Gleason) but between Fast Eddie's love for Sarah and his self-destructive impulses.

George C Scott (in only his third film) is intense, brooding and memorably authoritative. The quartet of Newman, Laurie, Gleason and Scott would all receive Oscar nominations for their equally unforgettable performances.

The Hustler has a wonderful rhythm to it (thanks to editor extraordinaire, Dede Allen, who would later do Bonnie and Clyde and Serpico) and complemented by its gritty realism, evoking the stench of stale cigarettes and alcohol that fills the pool halls during the film’s marathon matches.

Whether you're a pool fan or not, this film is just too good to be missed. Or to quote Fast Eddie: "I'm the best you ever seen, Fats. I'm the best there is." - Ben Newell

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