Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Hustler (1961)

Directed by Robert Rossen. Starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie, and Jackie Gleason.

Hollywood in the early 1960s was in flux- the old glamour was fading away, new and more down-to-Earth stars were rising, and the studios didn't know which direction they were going in. This is one of the most fascinating and emblematic of that period's films, a film made within the system that nonetheless embraced a kind of realism. Newman, in a great performance, plays Fast Eddie Felson, a cocky kid trying to make it as a pool hustler, only to learn hard lessons both in the game and in life from Laurie's handicapped drunk, Gleason's smooth-operating champ Minnesota Fats, and Scott's ruthless manager. The film is the pinnacle of the nearly-extinct art of black-and-white 'Scope, with the wide framing and deep focus ideal for re-creating the smoky, lonely world of late-night pool halls and bus stations. The very opposite of a formulaic sports movie, Fast Eddie is forced to learn things from playing the game that he would prefer not to learn.

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