The Hustler (film)

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The Hustler
The Hustler (1961 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Rossen
Screenplay by Sidney Carroll
Robert Rossen
Based on The Hustler
by Walter Tevis
Produced byRobert Rossen
Starring Paul Newman
Jackie Gleason
Piper Laurie
George C. Scott
Cinematography Eugen Schüfftan (as Eugene Shuftan)
Edited by Dede Allen
Music by Kenyon Hopkins
Rossen Enterprises
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 25, 1961 (1961-09-25)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2,125,000 [1]
Box office$7,600,000 [2]

The Hustler is a 1961 American CinemaScope drama film directed by Robert Rossen from Walter Tevis's 1959 novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Rossen and Sidney Carroll. It tells the story of small-time pool hustler "Fast Eddie" Felson and his desire to break into the "major league" of professional hustling and high-stakes wagering that follows it. He throws his raw talent and ambition up against the best player in the country, seeking to best the legendary pool player "Minnesota Fats".


The film was shot on location in New York City and stars Paul Newman as Eddie; Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats; Piper Laurie as Sarah; and George C. Scott as Bert. It was followed by The Color of Money in 1986, with Newman reprising his role.

The Hustler was a major critical and popular success, gaining a reputation as a modern classic. Its exploration of winning, losing, and character garnered a number of major awards; it is also credited with helping to spark a resurgence in the popularity of pool. [3] In 1997, the Library of Congress selected The Hustler for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." [4] [5] The Academy Film Archive preserved The Hustler in 2003. [6]


Small-time pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson travels cross-country with his partner Charlie to challenge the legendary player Minnesota Fats. Arriving at Fats' home pool hall, Eddie declares he will win $10,000 that night. Fats arrives and he and Eddie agree to play straight pool for $200 a game. After initially falling behind, Eddie surges back to being $1,000 ahead and suggests raising the bet to $1,000 a game; Fats agrees. He sends out a runner, Preacher, to Johnny's Bar, ostensibly for whiskey, but really to get professional gambler Bert Gordon to the hall. Eddie gets ahead $11,000 and Charlie tries to convince him to quit, but Eddie insists the game will end only when Fats says it is over. Fats agrees to continue after Bert labels Eddie a "loser". After 25 hours and an entire bottle of bourbon, Eddie is ahead over $18,000, but loses it all along with all but $200 of his original stake. At their hotel later, Eddie leaves half of the remaining stake with a sleeping Charlie and leaves.

Eddie stashes his belongings in locker at a bus terminal, where he meets Sarah Packard, an alcoholic who is supported by her father, attends college part-time, and walks with a limp. He meets her again at a bar. They go back to her place but she hesitates at letting him in, saying he is "too hungry". She asks "Why me?", and he gives up, leaving her with the bottle he'd brought. Eddie moves into a rooming house and starts hustling for small stakes. He finds Sarah at the bus terminal again and this time she takes him in, but with reservations. Charlie finds Eddie at Sarah's and tries to persuade him to go back out on the road. Eddie refuses and Charlie realizes he plans to challenge Fats again. Eddie learns that Charlie held out his (Charlie's) percentage and becomes enraged, believing that with that money he could have rebounded to beat Fats. Eddie dismisses Charlie as a scared old man and tells him to "go lie down and die" by himself.

At Johnny's Bar, Eddie joins a poker game where Bert is playing and loses $20. Afterward, Bert tells Eddie that he has talent as a pool player but no character. He figures that Eddie will need at least $3,000 to challenge Fats again. Bert calls him a "born loser" but nevertheless offers to stake him in return for 75% of his winnings; Eddie refuses.

Eddie humiliates a local pool shark , exposing himself as a hustler, and the other players punish him by breaking his thumbs. As he heals, Sarah cares for him and tells him she loves him, but he cannot say the words in return. When Eddie is ready to play, he agrees to Bert's terms, deciding that a "25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing".

Bert, Eddie, and Sarah travel to the Kentucky Derby, where Bert arranges a match for Eddie against a wealthy local socialite named Findley. The game turns out to be three-cushion billiards, not pool. When Eddie loses badly, Bert refuses to keep staking him. Sarah pleads with Eddie to leave with her, saying that the world he is living in and its inhabitants are "perverted, twisted, and crippled"; he refuses. Seeing Eddie's anger, Bert agrees to let the match continue at $1,000 a game. Eddie comes back to win $12,000. He collects his $3,000 share and decides to walk back to the hotel. Bert arrives first and subjects Sarah to a humiliating sexual encounter. Afterwards, she scrawls "PERVERTED", "TWISTED", and "CRIPPLED" in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Eddie arrives back at the hotel to learn that she has killed herself.

Eddie returns to challenge Fats again, putting up his entire $3,000 stake on a single game. He wins game after game, beating Fats so badly that Fats is forced to quit. Bert demands half of Eddie's winnings and threatens to have him beaten unless he pays. Eddie says he'll come back to kill Bert if he survives, shaming Bert into giving up his claim by invoking Sarah's memory. Instead, Bert orders Eddie never to walk into a big-time pool hall again. Eddie and Fats compliment each other as players, and Eddie walks out.


Pool champion Willie Mosconi has a cameo appearance as Willie, who holds the stakes for Eddie and Fats's games. Mosconi's hands also appear in many of the closeup shots.


Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats Jackie Gleason - 1966.jpg
Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats

The Tevis novel had been optioned several times, including by Frank Sinatra, but attempts to adapt it for the screen were unsuccessful. Director Rossen's daughter Carol Rossen speculates that previous adaptations focused too much on the pool aspects of the story and not enough on the human interaction. Rossen, who had hustled pool himself as a youth and who had made an abortive attempt to write a pool-themed play called Corner Pocket, optioned the book and teamed with Sidney Carroll to produce the script. [7]

According to Bobby Darin's agent, Martin Baum, Paul Newman's agent turned down the part of Fast Eddie. [8] Newman was originally unavailable to play Fast Eddie regardless, being committed to star opposite Elizabeth Taylor in the film Two for the Seesaw . [9] Rossen offered Darin the part after seeing him on The Mike Wallace Interview . [10] When Taylor was forced to drop out of Seesaw because of shooting overruns on Cleopatra , Newman was freed up to take the role, which he accepted after reading just half of the script. [9] No one associated with the production officially notified Darin or his representatives that he had been replaced; they found out from a member of the public at a charity horse race. [11]

Rossen filmed The Hustler over six weeks, entirely in New York City. Much of the action was filmed at two now-defunct pool halls, McGirr's and Ames Billiard Academy. [12] Other shooting locations included a townhouse on East 82nd Street, which served as the Louisville home of Murray Hamilton's character Findley, and the Manhattan Greyhound bus terminal. The film crew built a dining area that was so realistic that confused passengers sat there and waited to place their orders. [13] Willie Mosconi served as technical advisor on the film [12] and shot a number of the trick shots in place of the actors. All of Gleason's shots were his own; they were filmed in wide-angle to emphasize having the actor and the shot in the same frames. [14] Rossen, in pursuit of the style he termed "neo-neo-realistic", [15] hired actual street thugs, enrolled them in the Screen Actors Guild and used them as extras. [16] Scenes that were included in the shooting script but did not make it into the final film include a scene at Ames pool hall establishing that Eddie is on his way to town (originally slated to be the first scene of the film) and a longer scene of Preacher talking to Bert at Johnny's Bar which establishes Preacher is a junkie. [17]

Early shooting put more focus on the pool playing, but during filming Rossen made the decision to place more emphasis on the love story between Newman and Laurie's characters. [18] Despite the change in emphasis, Rossen still used the various pool games to show the strengthening of Eddie's character and the evolution of his relationship to Bert and Sarah, through the positioning of the characters in the frame. For example, when Eddie is playing Findley, Eddie is positioned below Bert in a two shot but above Findley while still below Bert in a three shot. When Sarah enters the room, she is below Eddie in two-shot while in a three-shot Eddie is still below Bert. When Eddie is kneeling over Sarah's body, Bert again appears above him but Eddie attacks Bert, ending up on top of him. Eddie finally appears above Bert in two-shot when Eddie returns to beat Fats. [19]


The Hustler is, fundamentally, a story of what it means to be a human being, couched within the context of winning and losing. [14] [20] Describing the film, Robert Rossen said: "My protagonist, Fast Eddie, wants to become a great pool player, but the film is really about the obstacles he encounters in attempting to fulfill himself as a human being. He attains self-awareness only after a terrible personal tragedy which he has caused — and then he wins his pool game." [20] Roger Ebert concurs with this assessment, citing The Hustler as "one of the few American movies in which the hero wins by surrendering, by accepting reality instead of his dreams." [14]

The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A screenwriter during the 1930s and '40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character. [21] Rossen also takes aim at capitalism, often showing money as a malign and corrupting influence. Eddie, Bert and Findley are all shown to be perverted by their pursuit of money. Of the pool hall inhabitants, only Minnesota Fats, who never handles money himself, focusing only on the game he is playing, is uncorrupted and undamaged by the end. He is beaten, but knows when to quit. Rossen often points out and exposes class divisions; for example, when Minnesota Fats asks Preacher, a junkie willing to run errands, to get him some "White Tavern whiskey, a glass and some ice," Eddie counters by ordering cheap bourbon, without any of the niceties: "J.T.S. Brown, no ice, no glass."

Film and theatre historian Ethan Mordden has identified The Hustler as one of a handful of films from the early 1960s that re-defined the relationship of films to their audiences. This new relationship, he writes, is "one of challenge rather than flattery, of doubt rather than certainty." [22] No film of the 1950s, Mordden asserts, "took such a brutal, clear look at the ego-affirmation of the one-on-one contest, at the inhumanity of the winner or the castrated vulnerability of the loser." [23] Although some have suggested the resemblance of this film to classic film noir, Mordden rejects the comparison based on Rossen's ultra-realistic style, also noting that the film lacks noir's "Treacherous Woman or its relish in discovering crime among the bourgeoisie, hungry bank clerks and lusty wives." [23] Mordden does note that while Fast Eddie "has a slight fifties ring", [24] the character "makes a decisive break with the extraordinarily feeling tough guys of the 'rebel' era ... [b]ut he does end up seeking out his emotions" [24] and telling Bert that he is a loser because he's dead inside. [24]


The Hustler had its world premiere in Washington, D.C. on September 25, 1961. Prior to the premiere, Richard Burton hosted a midnight screening of the film for the casts of the season's Broadway shows, which generated a great deal of positive word of mouth. [25] Initially reluctant to publicize the film, 20th Century Fox responded by stepping up its promotional activities. [26]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96%, based on 46 reviews, and an average rating of 8.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason give iconic performances in this dark, morally complex tale of redemption." [27] The film was well-received by critics, although with the occasional reservation. Variety praised the performances of the entire main cast but felt that the "sordid aspects" of the story prevented the film from achieving the "goal of being pure entertainment." [28] Variety also felt the film was far too long. Stanley Kauffmann, writing for The New Republic , concurred in part with this assessment. Kauffmann strongly praised the principal cast, calling Newman "first-rate" and writing that Scott's was "his most credible performance to date." Laurie, he writes, gives her part "movingly anguished touches" (although he also mildly criticizes her for over-reliance on Method acting). While he found that the script "strains hard to give an air of menace and criminality to the pool hall" and also declares it "full of pseudo-meaning", Kauffmann lauds Rossen's "sure, economical" direction, especially in regard to Gleason who, he says, does not so much act as "[pose] for a number of pictures which are well arranged by Rossen. It is the best use of a manikin by a director since Kazan photographed Burl Ives as Big Daddy." [29] The New York Times , despite finding that the film "strays a bit" and that the romance between Newman and Laurie's characters "seems a mite far-fetched", nonetheless found that The Hustler "speaks powerfully in a universal language that spellbinds and reveals bitter truths." [30]

Awards and nominations

Alternate theatrical release poster The Hustler (1961 film poster - alt).jpg
Alternate theatrical release poster
Academy Awards [31] Best Motion Picture Robert Rossen Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Paul Newman Nominated
Best Actress Piper Laurie Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jackie Gleason Nominated
George C. Scott (refused nomination)Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Robert Rossen and Sidney Carroll Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Harry Horner and Gene Callahan Won
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Eugen Schüfftan Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Dede Allen Nominated
British Academy Film Awards [32] Best Film Won
Best Foreign Actor Paul NewmanWon
Best Foreign Actress Piper LaurieNominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert RossenNominated
Golden Globe Awards [33] Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Paul NewmanNominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Jackie GleasonNominated
George C. ScottNominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Nominated
Laurel Awards Top DramaNominated
Top Male Dramatic PerformancePaul NewmanWon
Top Female Dramatic PerformancePiper LaurieNominated
Top Male Supporting PerformanceJackie GleasonWon
Top Cinematography – Black and WhiteEugen SchüfftanWon
Mar del Plata International Film Festival Best FilmRobert RossenNominated
Best ActorPaul NewmanWon
National Board of Review Awards [34] Top Ten Films 2nd Place
Best Supporting Actor Jackie GleasonWon
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards [35] Best Director Robert RossenWon
Best Actor Paul NewmanNominated
Best Actress Piper LaurieNominated
Satellite Awards Best Classic DVD Paul Newman – The Tribute CollectionNominated
Writers Guild of America Awards [36] Best Written American Drama Robert Rossen and Sidney CarrollWon
American Film Institute Lists


Paul Newman reprised his role as "Fast Eddie" Felson in the 1986 film The Color of Money , for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. A number of observers and critics have suggested that this Oscar was in belated recognition for his performance in The Hustler, [14] [42] Carroll and Rossen's screenplay was selected by the Writers Guild of America in 2006 as the 96th best motion picture screenplay of all time, [43] as well as some of his other Oscar nominated performances in films like Cool Hand Luke and The Verdict .


The Hustler 1961 screenshot 1.png

In the decades since its release, The Hustler has cemented its reputation as a classic. Roger Ebert, echoing earlier praise for the performances, direction, and cinematography and adding laurels for editor Dede Allen, cites the film as "one of those films where scenes have such psychic weight that they grow in our memories." [14] He further cites Eddie as one of "only a handful of movie characters so real that the audience refers to them as touchstones." [14] TV Guide calls the film a "dark stunner", [44] offering "a grim world whose only bright spot is the top of the pool table, yet [with] characters [who] maintain a shabby nobility and grace." [44] The four leads are again lavishly praised for their performances and the film is summed up as "not to be missed." [44]

In June 2008, AFI released its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Hustler was acknowledged as the sixth best film in the sports genre. [45] [46]

The Hustler is credited with sparking a resurgence in the popularity of pool in the United States, which had been on the decline for decades. [3] The film also brought recognition to Willie Mosconi, who, despite having won multiple world championships, was virtually unknown to the general public. [47] Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the film's popularity was a real-life pool hustler named Rudolf Wanderone. Mosconi claimed in an interview at the time of the film's release that the character of Minnesota Fats was based on Wanderone, who at the time was known as "New York Fatty". Wanderone immediately adopted the Minnesota Fats nickname and parlayed his association with the film into book and television deals and other ventures. Author Walter Tevis denied for the rest of his life that Wanderone had played any role in the creation of the character. [48] Other players would claim, with greater or lesser degrees of credibility, to have served as models for Fast Eddie, including Ronnie Allen, Ed Taylor, Eddie Parker, and Eddie Pelkey. [49]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Hustler</i> (novel) American novel about gambling

The Hustler is a 1959 novel by American writer Walter Tevis. It tells the story of a young pool hustler, Edward "Fast Eddie" Felson, who challenges the legendary Minnesota Fats.

<i>The Color of Money</i> 1986 drama film

The Color of Money is a 1986 American sports drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and released by Touchstone Pictures. The film was created from a screenplay by Richard Price, based on the 1984 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The film stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, and John Turturro in supporting roles. It features an original score by Robbie Robertson, and was released on October 17, 1986, after a premier a week earlier at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City in New York. The film grossed $52.3 million at the box office.

Willie Mosconi American pool player

William Joseph Mosconi was an American professional pool player from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Between the years of 1941 and 1957, he won the World Straight Pool Championship nineteen times. For most of the 20th century, his name was essentially synonymous with pool in North America – he was nicknamed "Mr. Pocket Billiards" – and he was among the first Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductees. Mosconi pioneered and regularly employed numerous trick shots, set many records, and helped to popularize pool as a national recreation activity.

Rudolf Wanderone American pool player

Rudolf Walter Wanderone, popularly known as Minnesota Fats or New York Fats, was an American professional billiards player. Although he never won a major pool tournament as "Fats", he was at one time perhaps the most publicly recognized pool player in the United States—not only as a player, but also as an entertainer. Wanderone was inducted in 1984 into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame for his decades-long public promotion of pool.

Straight pool Cue sport

Straight pool, which is also called 14.1 continuous and 14.1 rack, is a cue sport in which two competing players attempt to pot as many billiard balls as possible without playing a foul. The game, which is played on a billiard table, is the primary version of pool that was played in professional competition until it was superseded by faster-playing games like nine-ball and eight-ball in the 1970s.


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Hustling is the deceptive act of disguising one's skill in a sport or game with the intent of luring someone of probably lesser skill into gambling with the hustler, as a form of both a confidence trick and match fixing. It is most commonly associated with, and originated in pocket billiards (pool), but also can be performed with regard to other sports and gambling activities. Hustlers may also engage in "sharking"—distracting, disheartening, enraging, or even threatening their opponents—to throw them off. Hustlers are thus often called "pool sharks". Professional and semi-pro hustlers sometimes work with a "stakehorse"—a person who provides the money for the hustler to bet with —in exchange for a substantial portion of all winnings. Another form of hustling is challenging "marks" to bet on trick shots that seem nearly impossible but at which the hustler is exceptionally skilled. Chess hustlers are quite common in urban areas in the United States and elsewhere, often offering speed chess against any takers. Unlike most hustlers however, chess hustlers are often assumed to be skilled and are seen as a challenge.

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"Fast Eddie" Parker was an American pool player, claimed by many to have been the inspiration for the character "Fast Eddie" Felson in the 1959 Walter Tevis novel The Hustler. In both the 1961 film adaptation and the 1986 sequel, Felson was played by Paul Newman.



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