a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, The Hustler (1961), starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott.
Per IMDb: “An up-and-coming pool player plays a long-time champion in a single high-stakes match.”
This is the story of a low-rent pool hustler named “Fast Eddie” Felson (Newman) as he tries break into the big time and become a professional hustler through high-stakes betting by the sucker high-rollers that follow it. He does this by chasing after the pool hustler, Minnesota Fats (Gleason), with his partner in crime, Charlie (Myron McCormick). When he does catch up to him, he challenges Fats. Fats hands him his arse, but Felson comes back, and they increase the stakes from $200 per game to $1000 per game. After 25 hours, a whole bottle of (straight) bourbon and $18,000 later, he loses it all but his original $200 when professional gambler, Bert Gordon (Scott) goads him into putting up the whole kitty. He leaves half of that with Charlie later in the hotel and abandons him.
He stashes whatever he has in a bus terminal locker and while in a diner he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie) and they hit it off, just getting liquored up and messing about with one another, but when she questions him about why her, he gives her the bottle he just bought and leaves. He goes off on a pity party and earns a little money hustling some amateurs. Sarah finds him back in the diner and they finish what they ended earlier. They spend a good bit of time together and Charlie hunts Eddie down. Charlie tries to talk Eddie into going back on the road. Eddie dismisses Charlie, telling him to go die alone.
Eddie comes across Bert who tells him he thinks he can really do good and that he wants 25% of the winnings. Eddie says no and goes and hustles a small time shark. The fellas in the pool hall realize he’s a shark himself and they break his thumbs. Sarah has to nurse him back to health, which isn’t easy, not only because it’s broken bones but because he’s stubborn and proud. He realizes that a “25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing”and signs on with Bert. He has to tell Sarah and she’s not happy about it. So, she goes with them to Kentucky. What happens when they go to Kentucky? Does it go well? Does he get to get revenge on Minnesota Fats? You’ll have to watch to find out.
First, a note that the bartender in the opening scene is legendary boxer, Jake Lamotta. It was cool to see the cameo. This film shows the complexities of addiction. Addiction to gambling, how it rips you apart from those you love or care about, how it rips your integrity from your being. It also show obsession. Obsession does the same things as addiction, especially when you’re obsessed with your addiction. Newman’s Eddie is blinded by both and it costs him, big time.
Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 98% Fresh with an Audience Score of 93%. The Critics Consensus reads: “Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason give iconic performances in this dark, morally complex tale of redemption.” I agree with that except that while they bill Gleason as the co-star, which he is a costar, the real main co-star is George C. Scott. IMDb rates it at 8.1 stars out of 10.
The film was dark and slow moving but the acting was spot on and the story line was intriguing. It’s on the 400 nomination list for the AFI‘s 100 Years… 100 Movies list, which is why you’re hearing it from me now. It’s available from Netflix through their DVD.com program which is what I did. I rate it 3.75 stars out of 5. Have you seen it? What did you think? What would you like to see or hear me review?
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“Maybe I’m not such a high-class piece of property right now. And a 25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing.” – “Fast Eddie” Felson