Tuesday, August 23, 2011

THE HUSTLER (Robert Rossen, 1961, USA)

A pool shark leaves the little pond and is soon devoured by a larger fish. Robert Rossen directs this Cimmerian melodrama about a loser whose desire to win almost consumes his humanity; a man who must lose everything to find himself.

Fast Eddie Felson is a hustler, a thief with a Cheshire grin whose life is measured by the clacking of cue balls and the long hard miles between dingy hotel rooms. Eddie stubbornly wills himself to believe he’s the best pool player in the land, his raison d’etre now defined by conquering the legendary Minnesota Fats. Eddie learns the high cost of losing...and the higher cost of winning.

The film begins with a wonderful setup as Eddie and his partner hustle some small town yokels out of a few bucks. The scene depicts this small time existence, Eddie’s talent worth a pittance, a crushing despair that satisfies the id but not the super-ego. Rossen utilizes this dichotomy in the next scene as Eddie challenges Fats in a marathon session for pool hall supremacy; the setting is superficial, the smoky rooms filled with sweat and human detritus remain the same, but here it’s the challenge that is the Big Time. Eddie’s loss causes him to spiral out of control but it’s a crippled love that redeems him.

Paul Newman sweats charisma as Fast Eddie, walking with a cool swagger and overconfidence portrayed as a fault in his seemingly solid foundation. Newman makes Eddie utterly believable as a human being, full of fear and anxieties, a man who doubts himself but will never let it show: it’s a bravura performance deserving of accolades! George C. Scott is Bert Gordon, the cruel gambler who buys men’s souls for profit...his. Scott imbue this unlikable character with a sly humanity, a keen insightful performance that make Gordon a person and not a mere villain to subrogate Newman’s resurrection. Piper Laurie’s breathy sexuality is convincingly honest and meek, a lonely woman who needs Eddie to whisper those three magical words to attain salvation. But loses her own straight game with a straight razor.

Rossen films in Cinemascope black and white compositions inside of the bleak pool halls, bars, and bus stations which projects an illusion of freedom within claustrophobic places. The effects is akin to a prisoner who feels free when allowed to walk the exercise yard, momentarily forgetting that the static tomb of the cell awaits. A cool jazz arrangement keeps score setting tempo and defining narrative timbre.

Ultimately Fast Eddie Felson must face his demons and win his self-respect, not bow to the color of money.

Final Grade: (A)


Dusty said...

Very nice review sir. I consider this one of the top ten films of all time. That may be a bit bias because I'm an advanced pool player as well as a cinephile.

I disagree slightly with your assessment of Eddie in the beginning of the review. He wasn't really a small fish in a big pond. He knew that his skills surpassed his opponents, he just didn't realize that skills weren't the only attribute needed.

I've seen this movie many, many times. Every time I see it I learn something new about the characters.

I'm not sure if you mentioned it elsewhere, but it the audio and video was recently remastered and released in a commemorative edition blu-ray "digibook". It may be worth noting to your readers.

Excellent review sir, bravo.

Dusty said...

I said sir twice! Wish I could edit that, oh well.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks for the kind words Dusty! Believe it or not, this was the first time I have ever seen THE HUSTLER. It was on my short list and when I knew it was being released on blu-ray I decided to wait...and wow was it worth the wait!

The new high-definition digibook looks fantastic on a big screen, with a nice depth to the deep focus B&W cinematography. Thanks for stopping by my humble blog and I always welcome new insights and ideas about films:)

Dusty said...

I'm really looking forward to getting the blu-ray. I've heard Robbert Rossen was tougher to please than Kubrick. The kind of guy who makes sure a scene is perfect before he moves on to the next.

Its hard for others to watch the movie with me because I tend to recite the dialogue while watching.

In the special features, there is a guy talking about the actual pool shots, Mike Massey. I actually met that guy in person and have a picture of the two of us.

I am a follower of your blog, also, I have a link to it on my blog.

Last we talked you were recommending some Ingmar Bergman. So I watched Persona last week and was blown away. There will much more Bergman in my future.

Allen Hefner said...

I enjoyed your review of this great movie. It shows that the story and the acting can be much more important than the locations or special effects...something that may be lost on the newer generation of film makers.

With Jackie Gleason and Murray Hamilton as Bit Actors, and all of the colorful others in the pool halls, it is superb. A great film to watch with a nice glass of bourbon.

Alex DeLarge said...

Cool story about Mike Massey! I'm also glad you liked PERSONA; I need to watch again and write a review. I also recommend FANNY AND ALEXANDER wich comes out on blu-ray in November. Have you seen WINTER LIGHT?

Thanks Allen, you're absolutely right:) It seems the larger the budget the dumber the movie: Christopher Nolan comes directly to mind because he once made good independant films.