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USA, 1961, 135 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Archival, Comedy, Drama
Program: Contemporary World CinemaLanguage: English
DIRECTOR: Robert Rossen
Producer: Robert RossenEditor: Dede AllenScreenwriter: Sydney Carroll, Robert RossenCinematographer: Eugene ShuftanPrincipal Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormickUS Distributor: Criterion Pictures
Paul Newman already had an Oscar nomination (for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and several box-office successes to his credit when he signed on to appear in The Hustler. But Robert Rossen’s moody, gritty drama turned out to mark yet another career breakthrough for the actor, affording him the opportunity to evolve from mere star to icon.
As “Fast Eddie” Felson—a swaggering pool shark who learns harsh life lessons while paying dearly for his cynicism, selfishness, and hubris—Newman gives a bitterly passionate performance. The opening scenes concisely define his character as a smoothie who easily bamboozles opponents into raising the stakes of a game by feigning incompetence or inebriation—at least until he moves in for the kill. His cross-country tour of seedy billiard rooms ends in New York, where he hopes to defeat the reigning master, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason)—a cool customer who knows there is much more to pool than either technical skill or con artistry. Sure enough, Eddie proves too callow and cocksure to be any match for such a seasoned pro. Nor is he much of a partner to Sarah (Piper Laurie), a vulnerable alcoholic who needs more than Eddie can give.
Laurie is affectingly complex as the tragic Sarah, Gleason amusingly lordly as the dapper Fats (so dapper, in fact, that he wears boutonnières in the lapels of both his overcoat and his suit jacket). And as for George C. Scott, he’s superbly menacing as a kind of pool hall Mephistopheles. But Newman is the most valuable player here, making an indelible impact with his soulful portrayal of a man who discovers that, sometimes, winning means losing everything.
The Hustler will be presented in a new 35mm print courtesy of Criterion Pictures.
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