‘The Hustler’ movie review and facts
In the early 1960s, the game of pool was not one that was played heavily or even talked about. The movie The Hustler starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason would change all that. Released in 1961, The Hustler would quickly become a classic, showing the seedy underbelly of high stakes wagering and professional hustling involving billiards.
Small-time pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson played by the handsome Newman has a desire to become a professional hustler, going for high stakes at the pool table. He uses his talent and sheer will to win to take on the best player in the country, Minnesota Fats, played by Gleason. The plot of the film shows the hustling side of pool, where top players take on each other to prove who’s the best. The movie includes award-winning performances from the most talented actors at the time.
Eddie (Newman) is the star of the show, taking on Minnesota Fats (Gleason) early on and losing, then falling in love with a beautiful lady named Sarah, played by Piper Laurie. Eddie ends up meeting and working with Bert Gordon, played by George C. Scott, a successful gambler who decides to help Eddie learn how to make it in the big-time playing pool.
Sarah soon decides to tag along with Eddie and Bert on a trip to Louisville to take part in a high stakes match and the movie takes somewhat of a tragic turn.
Overall, the story is one that covers winning and losing, in both life and the sport of billiards. It is interesting to note that this was a rare dramatic role for Gleason, who was a popular comic at the time. He is best known for his role as Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners, a television show from the 50s.
Taking on a dark theme, the seedy underbelly of hustling and high stakes gambling made the movie intriguing, particularly considering the time frame in which it was released. Today it would be commonplace to bet on a game of pool, billiard, or snook. Sports betting is prevalent in the United States, as well as internationally. However, the 1960s was a different time and place, when people were more conservative but interested in the darker side of life such as what is portrayed in The Hustler.
The film received critical acclaim after its release, nominated for nine Academy Awards, and winning two. It was also nominated for numerous other awards including the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, Laurel Awards, and more.
Interesting Facts About The Hustler
Just like any classic film, there are unique and interesting facts about The Hustler that everyone should know. The film is based on the game of pool and Jackie Gleason was a great player. He actually did many of the trick shots in the film without any help. Paul Newman on the other hand had never played the game or even held a pool cue. When he got the role, Newman turned his dining room into a pool room and spent a ton of time practicing so he could play well in the movie.
Jackie Gleason received second billing on the film but is only in the movie for about 20 minutes. It was believed that adding his name to the ticket would be a good promotional tool for those who knew and loved the actor.
Bobby Darin, the popular musician with hits like ‘Splish, Splash’, was supposed to play Fast Eddie after Newman was initially unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. However, before filming began, Newman was scrapped from another movie and was able to play in The Hustler. Darin was devastated and heard about the change secondhand, which added more insult to injury.
Robert Rossen was the director of the film and was actually a pool hustler in his younger days. He tried to write a play about his pool-playing days before he came across The Hustler novel by Walter Tevis. The story by Tevis was amazing and Rossen decided it was much better than anything he could create. The novel was eventually used to create this film.
When it came to the atmosphere of the film, Rossen wanted the environment to be as legit as possible. To create pure realism, Rossen hired thugs off the street to be extras at the pool halls. Rossen even went so far as to have them join the Screen Actors Guild so they would be legitimate actors.
Similar sports betting movies
The Hustler was one of the first to feature sports betting as a theme in the film. Since the early 1960s, other classic films have been released that feature sports betting as well. The Hustler even had a sequel of sorts to come out in 1986 with The Color of Money. Starring Tom Cruise as Vincent, the protégé of Fast Eddie, a role that was reprised by Paul Newman. The focus is pool hustling yet again and a newer, interesting take on the original film.
One of the newer releases that comes to mind, is the Silver Linings Playbook from 2012. This movie starred Robert De Niro, a man who wagers more than he should on a team he loves. Additional sports betting movies that are popular among film fans include:
- Eight Men Out
- The Gambler
- Even Money
- Two for the Money
- And many more
Remembering a classic
The Hustler is one of a select few films that stand the test of time, covering such subjects as crime and high stakes gambling. Similar to the movie Casino, The Hustler gives an inside look into this lifestyle and how one can be affected by criminal behavior.
Though decades old, the movie still is poignant today and a must-see for movie buffs.