In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Not only does Newman have the amazing charisma to personify Felson at his cockiest when on top, there’s also a vulnerability to Newman that shines through when we see cracks in Felson’s cocksure facade.”
“No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey.”
Robert Rosen isn’t a name that jumped out at me as a director whose work I know and love. When I looked into it, I saw that he only directed 10 movies in his entire career. But he was definitely a quality over quantity kind of guy, because of those 10, he made one pretty great movie with All the King’s Men, and one undisputed classic, with The Hustler.
‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) hustles his way across America playing pool. Along with his partner Chalrie (Myron McCormick), they scam and win decent money from locals before moving on to the next town, but Felson has his eye on a bigger prize. The legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) hasn’t been beaten in 15 odd years, and Felson walks into Fats’ home ground pool hall hell bent on taking the legend down. At one point $18,000 up, Felson’s ego gets the best of him, and after 25 hours straight at the table, he loses the lot.
Ashamed, he leaves half of what little money he has left with Charlie and leaves. Meeting local drunk Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), the two broken people find a certain peace with each other and almost start to build a life. But when Charlie tracks Felson down to go back on the road hustling pool, Feslon’s real motivations are revealed. He’s only staying in town until he can rustle up enough stake money to take on Minnesota Fats one more time. Stake money that arrives in the form of local bookie, Bert Gordon (George C Scott).
Paul Newman is one of the coolest guys to ever be in pictures. He was handsome, suave, charming, and he knew it. Yet somehow, he pulled it off in a way that never seemed conceited or up himself. It’s an immense confidence that makes ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson a custom designed role for Newman to play. Not only does he have the amazing charisma to personify Felson at his cockiest when on top, there’s also a vulnerability to Newman that shines through when we see cracks in Felson’s cocksure facade.
And as amazing as Paul Newman is, I may have been even more impressed by Piper Laurie. She’s an actress whose name and face I recognised immediately, but looking at her IMDB, there isn’t much I’m familiar with. But if The Hustler is her only really noteworthy performance, it’s good enough to justify her being someone whose name and face I recognise immediately. The role of the spoilt little rich girl, drinking herself into oblivion, could so easily be overplayed and hammed up, but Laurie makes Sarah heart breakingly tragic.
A quarter of a century after The Hustler, the character of ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson returned in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. Watching The Hustler with that hindsight, it’s kind of fascinating, there’s nothing about this story that points to a sequel. These kinds of dramas don’t usually lead to sequels. But Paul Newman is so watchable and so perfectly suited to this character, I almost can’t believe it took so long for someone to bring ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson back to the big screen.