Hustler, The (1961)

Hustler, The (1961)

“Eddie, you’re a born loser.”

A young pool hustler (Paul Newman) and his manager (Myron McCormick) arrive in New York so Eddie (Newman) can finally play against a legend in the field, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Eddie’s refusal to quit while ahead leads him to lose all his money, and he soon falls for an alcoholic aspiring writer (Piper Laurie) he meets at the bus station, then eventually agrees to work for a manipulative financier (George C. Scott).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • George C. Scott Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Piper Laurie Films
  • Robert Rossen Films
  • Romance

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “powerful adaptation of Walter Tevis’s short story and novel about embittered pool hustler ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson… whose obsession with winning at all costs makes him the ultimate loser” features Paul Newman giving “one of his most emotional performances.” As Peary notes, all four stars — Newman, Laurie, Scott, and Gleason — “give masterful, unforgettable performances, and the dialogue is tough and believable,” but the film ultimately “stands out because of its vivid depiction of the sleazy poolroom milieu,” presented as “a male battleground where one doesn’t win just by pocketing the most balls but by beating an opponent into humiliating submission.” Peary adds that “Rossen shows the importance of body language, of smiling confidently, of talking smoothly, of holding back the sweat — and how important to a player’s style are the various props: pool sticks, liquor, cigarettes, jackets, flowers in the lapel, hats, shades.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary gives Newman the Best Actor award he was expecting (and deserved). He writes that “as the brash, smart-ass hustler — a combination of a cocky gunslinger and a boxer willing to sell out friends in order to get a title shot — Newman has surprising authority on the screen, using not only a strong voice and that devil’s grin to hold our attention but also a confident pool player’s dramatic and imposing body language.” Thankfully, while “his character is a bundle of energy and anger,” Newman “wisely doesn’t try to overpower the role by acting hyper or using too many mannerisms.” Equally impressive is Laurie, who Peary nominates as one of the Best Actresses of the Year; her troubled, needy, yet distant character seems exactly like someone Eddie might fall for, and her trajectory is tragic indeed. Meanwhile, Scott (in just his third movie role) dominates whenever he’s on screen, perfectly embodying “a rich bastard who likes ‘action'” and “thinks Eddie is a loser… but knows he has talent”; and Gleason is perfectly cast as the “fat man” with impeccable pool skills. Also of note are Eugene Shuftan’s b&w cinematography, Kenyon Hopkins’ jazzy score, Dede Allen’s editing, Harry Horner’s production design, and a smart screenplay. While it’s hard to watch at times, this dark classic remains must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Newman as Eddie Felson
  • Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard
  • George C. Scott as Bert Gordon
  • Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats
  • The intense opening pool sequence between Eddie and Fats
  • Harry Horner’s production design
  • Eugene Shuftan’s cinematography

  • Sydney Carroll and Robert Rossen’s screenplay
  • Dede Allen’s editing
  • Kenyon Hopkins’ jazzy score

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful if undeniably bleak classic.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Hustler, The (1961)

  1. Must-see, for the performances and Rossen’s direction.

    Though I’m pretty sure I have rewatched this film in the last 5 years, it isn’t one I would want to revisit at the moment for the purpose of a more proper response. (Agreed that it’s bleak.) Nevertheless, film fanatics should see it.

    It’s sort of surprising that Newman had such relatively few stand-out roles in his career and that he is perceived as more of a ‘commercial’ actor. But this is among his stand-out roles.

    His Oscar win for Scorsese’s ‘The Color of Money’ may be seen as either a consolation for not winning for ‘The Hustler’ or even ‘The Verdict’ (in my view, his best performance). But ‘TCOM’ is not particularly a lesser film and Newman’s work in it is solid.

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