Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Hustler

 'A twenty-five percent slice of something big is better than a hundred percent of nothing'.

 Fast Eddie Felso to Bert Gordon.

' Perverted, Twisted, Crippled'.

 Sarah on Bert Gordon.

 I was in our local library today and I had forgotten it had a DVD section albeit a rather limited one. I'm starving for classic films to watch and I had a quick browse and picked out this and The Wild One. There are a few more but I'll keep them for another day. Well if you have been following this blog then you'll have seen I read a Paul Newman biography recently so it isn't difficult to fathom why The Hustler found it's way into my DVD player is it?! I just hope  my mediocre writing and critiqing abilities can do justice to this very finest of films!

 The Hustler was Paul Newman's break out role/film. The thing that instantly hit me is that in Shawn Levy's biography he states that in Newman's early career he was considered as the 'poor man's' Marlon Brando. I can see why as there is a similarity in looks and in a white t-shirt Newman does look very similar to Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. Newman though was never as muscualr as Brando, and it shows when he has his shirt off in The Hustler. He is ripped to be sure but certainly not muscualr.

 One thing that did surprise me was that it was filmed in black and white. This is a 1961 film so it seems strange it isn't in colour. The pictures on the cover are in colour so it was with some surprise to find the film wasn't. The picture was lovely and crisp though but I found the last twenty minutes or so it got quite grainy. It was a surprise because I would have thought that that sort of thing would have been fixed up for DVD release.

 The Hustler was nominated for numerous Oscars and after viewing it it is immediately obvious why. I mean four acting nominations alone is an incredible achievement. I believe Newman was disgracefully over looked for this role that year for his performance and Shawn Levy agrees in his fine biography. When you consider the quality of the films The Hustler was up against, and who Newman was nominated against it is very clear he was overlooked. Many believe his only Oscar win for the Colour of Money was a belated apology and acknowledgement of this.

Felso and Fats about to slug it out..over 40 hours!!
 It is a great performance by Newman to. The opening few scenes are out of the way quickly and it rips into Newman giving a quite electrifying performance as Fast Eddie Felso. What a scene!! I was spell bound by it and Newman is just incredible. Electrifyingly incredible!! He is arrogant, cocky, and also bloody good at pool. The marathon session with Minnesota Fats lasts forty hours! It is a scene that is broken up into various parts and yet it plays like one contiuous one to give a feeling of time. I liked how certain parts had the action of the table super imposed over the various players. A good technique as it just added to feel of time and continuity. If you haven't seen this film then believe me this part of the film is one you will never forget. It has to rate as one of Newman's very best surely.

 The film is pretty much devided into three parts. The opening part is fairly much the battle with minnesota Fats. After Felso is comprehensviley cleaned out the film moves on to him meeting a lonely woman called Sarah. The middle chunk of the film actually slows right down after the amazing introduction and its adrenaline fueled surge. And yet it is an important part as Felso is revealed to be something of an amoral man with no real direction in life except hustling. As Gordon Bert ( a very good George C. Scott ) tells him, he lacks character. The scene where Bert tells Felso this is another standout as Felso hears some hard truths about himself. In essence he is told he is a loser.

 The middle portion of the film has virtualy no pool action besides a short billiards session where it appears Felso is to be cleaned out and yet prevails. It is central to the film's theme as it is more than just pool and hustling. It also explores human character, and to a certain degree redemption and the price than can be paid for chasing a dream. Felso wants to be the best pool player in the country and virtually sells his soul to Gordon to achieve it. We see Sarah at one stage begging Felso to walk away as Gordon will break his heart. It is telling that in the billiards scene Gordon is told he resembles a statue behind him of a goat legged Devil!

 Of course we then see the famous scene of Gordon extracting sex from Sarah and her writing on the mirror the words Perverted, twisted crippled, before killing herself. She realises that Felso will never return the love she feels for him as he has made his decision to beat Minnesota Fats. Funnily, Piper Laurie, even though nominated for and Oscar, was heavily critisied for using the method acting too much!! I thought her excellent as a lonely aimless woman who has turned to liquor and yet finds love in the form of Felso...who is ultimately the cause of her suicide through Gordon.

 This all leads up to the final show down scene, and it is a rip snorter with Newman absolutely fizzing as Felso. It is a palpable scene and Newman is just sublime. His anger and his knowledge within himself as to what he sacrificed to achieve his goal sees him absolutely cream Minnesota Fats. The last parts are brilliant as Felso seeks redemption as a human being as he tells Gordon he is the real loser as he is dead inside. He shames him by telling him he is responsible for Sarah's suicide. Gordon knows he is right and lets Felso go but warns him to keep out of big pool halls as a parting shot. It may be a sports film but it is also very human in that it explores some quite dark themes about personal corruption, morality, and the price to be paid for it.

 The Hustler is just over two hours long and even though it is in three obvious parts there are no dull spots. Some critics claim it is too long but I disagree. It is just right and perfectly paced. I like how Felso is so arrogant and cocky that the viewer almost feels as if he is going to come out wth some humourous lines and add a comedic air to the film. This doesn't happen and yet the expectation is there. Great acting from Newman. It is also rated as the sixth best American sports film ever made. No disagreement from me there. The marathon forty hour battle between Felso and Fats is brilliant and both Newman and Gleason are just sublime. And the shots!!...honestly some of them are just breath taking and makes the film well worth seeing for them alone.

 What a film, what a film!!! This really is as good as it gets folks! Riveting! Brilliant stuff! It is funny because Scott in a 1980 interview said the acting in The Hustler was nothing special!!!! I heartily disagree. Scott himself is superb and shows his performance in Dr. Strangelove was no fluke. Jackie Gleason has only twenty minutes screen time but is very good as the sauve, unflappable Minnesota Fats.  But ulimately Paul Newman is the stand out. What can be said about his performance?? Quite brilliant..I could feel the sparks fly as he danced around the pool table!! ( Both Newman and Gleason actually learnt how to play pool and most of the pool sequences are actually them playing. It just brings that extra air of credibilty and quality to the whole film ). The whole cast gel extremely well,  but the scene between Felso and Gordon where Gordon offers Felso his 'advice' is a damn fine bit of one on one acting and the best of the film.

 A definite must see!! A true classic, and is Paul Newman at his very best ( for which he should have got that Oscar!! ).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I knew it was filmed in New York but not in an actual pool room. Never heard of the boxer! Like all films the trivia behind them is always interesting.
    Thanks for the comments but I'm struggling to write at the level I'd like to be! I can do much better and should be as!
    The Hustler is a great film and should be seen by all, pity it has taken me so long to see it!