The Bottom Line
- Cool pool shots seen on screen
- Outstanding drama worth watching even if you aren't a pool fan
- Hall of Fame great Willie Mosconi provides a rare cameo
- Could this film be colorized or otherwise redone today for a modern audience?
- Overall, The Hustler is high drama with great pool and clever con games and double crosses seen throughout.
- The film that made overnight stars of pool pros and actor unknowns alike.
The Hustler (1961) is king and queen of pool movies, introducing the world to Paul Newman in an Oscar®-worthy performance.
Guide Review - The Hustler (1961) Starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason
Paul Newman immortalizes author Walter Tevis’ creation, “Fast Eddie” Felson, one of the greatest ever (never?) to lift a cue. The film opens on a Fast Eddie con game just before Eddie is to lose his lifelong mentor (played convincingly by Myron McCormick) when he cracks after a drunken pool bout with uber-hustler “Minnesota Fats” (Jackie Gleason). The real-life hustler, Luther F. Wanderone, quickly changed his moniker from “New York Fats” to “Minnesota Fats” following the movie’s popular release.
Gleason and Newman were both fine shooters under the tutelage of none other than Willie Mosconi. Gleason had been indelibly branded by Mosconi’s greatness years before. After Gleason boasted of his pool prowess to Frank Sinatra, Sinatra decided to teach “The Great One” a lesson and set him up to lose money against Mosconi! The Great One and “The Mosc” remained friends long after their joust.
Piper Laurie shines as a shattered woman looking for meaning in providing hope to Fast Eddie before her life ends tragically. George C. Scott is powerful as “Bert Gordon”, the minder who pulls strings above the tables where servants do his bidding—or never shoot pool again.
Watch the opening credits for an amazing shot by Mosconi. A ball breaks apart a rack of Straight Pool, goes away from the rack and back into it again from sheer spin like a massé shot. Most pool professionals cannot duplicate the shot.
And, lest we forget, the film revived pool in America from the depths a dozen years after servicemen returned from overseas, abandoning the pool tables on bases in Europe and Asia for marriage and family.
The Hustler justly received Oscars® for art direction and cinematography, plus seven more nominations for Newman, Gleason, Laurie, Scott and Best Director (Robert Rossen), Best Picture and Best Screenplay (adapted from another medium).