Film of the Day: THE HUSTLER (1961)

HOW CAN I LOSE?

 

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Starring Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott. Directed and written by Robert Rossen, who also wrote the screenplay for James Cagney’s Roaring Twenties (1939) and the Technicolor epic, Alexander the Great, starring Richard Burton (1956). Nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Actor and Actress and Best Supporting Actor x2, Best Picture and Best Director).

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Fast Eddie Felson is a sharp customer; a pool shark hungry to take on anyone foolish enough to fall for his disingenuous, booze-soaked shruggery: the old ‘I don’t know much about pool, but what the hell, I’ll give it a whirl’ trick (‘and whilst we’re at it, throw in your car and you’ve got yourself a game’). Fast Eddie sure is sharp. But he’s cocky and hungry to prove he’s the greatest player around, and to this end has travelled across the country to challenge the great Minnesota Fats. Eddie plays well against Fats, in fact, he pretty much wipes the table with him. But then, with booze and bragging, he throws it all away…

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MINNESOTA FATS: DO YOU LIKE TO GAMBLE, EDDIE? GAMBLE MONEY ON POOL GAMES?

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FAST EDDIE: I’M THE BEST YOU’VE EVER SEEN, FATS. I’M THE BEST THERE IS. AND EVEN IF YOU BEAT ME, I’M STILL THE BEST.

Eddie meets Sarah, a melancholy soul with a twisted foot and a thirst for booze…

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SARAH: HOW DID YOU KNOW MY NAME WAS SARAH?

FAST EDDIE: YOU TOLD ME.

SARAH: I LIE. WHEN I’M DRUNK, I LIE.

FAST EDDIE: OKAY, SO WHAT’S YOUR NAME TODAY?

SARAH: SARAH.

Then Eddie meets Bert Gordon. Or, rather, Bert sniffs Eddie out, determined to get in on his action as agent and manager. But he has to stick the knife in and twist; stick it into Eddie; stick it into Sarah: Eddie’s no good, Bert says. Eddie’s a born loser, Bert says. And Sarah is perverted, twisted and crippled…

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GORDON: EDDIE, YOU’RE A BORN LOSER.
EDDIE: WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?
GORDON: FIRST TIME IN TEN YEARS I EVER SAW MINNESOTA FATS HOOKED, REALLY HOOKED. BUT YOU LET HIM OFF.
EDDIE: I TOLD YOU, I GOT DRUNK.
GORDON: SURE YOU GOT DRUNK, THE BEST EXCUSE IN THE WORLD FOR LOSIN’. NO TROUBLE LOSIN’ WHEN YOU GOT A GOOD EXCUSE. AND WINNING – THAT CAN BE HEAVY ON YOUR BACK TOO, LIKE A MONKEY. DROP THAT LOAD TOO WHEN YOU GOT AN EXCUSE. ALL YOU GOTTA DO IS LEARN TO FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF. THAT’S ONE OF THE BEST INDOOR SPORTS, FEELIN’ SORRY FOR YOURSELF. A SPORT ENJOYED BY ALL – ESPECIALLY THE BORN LOSER.

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SARAH: DOESN’T ALL OF THIS COME THROUGH TO YOU, EDDIE? DOESN’T ANY OF THIS MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU? THAT MAN, THIS PLACE, THE PEOPLE. THEY WEAR MASKS, EDDIE AND UNDERNEATH THE MASKED THEY’RE PERVERTED, TWISTED, CRIPPLED…

EDDIE: SHUT UP!

SARAH: DON’T WEAR A MASK, EDDIE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

Bert, the creep, breaks bones and breaks hearts and with twisted and crippled Sarah gone, Eddie plays Minnesota Fats one last time for her…

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FAST EDDIE:

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TRIVIA: Boxing champ, Jake LaMotta – subject of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) – has a cameo performance as a bartender.

And catch Paul Newman reprising the role of Fast Eddie in Scorsese’s The Colour of Money (1986), starring Tom Cruise.

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posted by Dixie Turner

 

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