THE HUSTLER (1961) B/W widescreen 134m dir: Robert Rossen
w/Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton, Michael Constantine, Stefan Gierasch, Jake LaMotta, Gordon B. Clarke
Riveting melodrama about "Fast Eddie" Felson, a hot-headed pool shark who has the talent but ultimately may lack the character to be a winner.
From The Movie Guide: "This dark stunner, based on Walter Tevis's novel, boasts Paul Newman in the role that made him an overnight superstar. The treatment feels like a cross between Hemingway and Odets and there are some affectations with dialogue. But Rossen knows how to frame his story and give his actors room to breathe, eliciting terrific performances from everyone....
"With the help of Gene Shuftan's Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography, producer-writer-director Robert Rossen offers a grim world where the only bright spot is the top of the pool table, yet his characters maintain a shabby nobility and grace. Gleason is brilliantly detached, witty, and charming as Fats; sexy, waifish Laurie offers some of the best work of her career; Scott is evil incarnate; and Newman is simply unforgettable in his Oscar-nominated role (he would have to play Fast Eddie again 25 years later in the excellent sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY, to actually win his first Academy Award). The great pool player Willie Moscone coached Gleason and Newman in their shots. Not to be missed."
Besides Shuftan's Cinematography Oscar, THE HUSTLER also won for Best Art Direction (Harry Horner, Gene Callahan). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Newman), Actress (Laurie), Supporting Actor (both Gleason and Scott), and Adapted Screenplay (Sidney Carroll, Rossen).
From the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), this article about the film by Rob Nixon:
"The Hustler and its characters have become so firmly identified with professional pool that since its release in 1961, both the public and many pool players, even pros, believe the characters of Fats and Fast Eddie are based on real people, although the novel's author, Walter Tevis, insists they were entirely fictional. That didn't stop pro player Rudolph Walter Wanderone from taking the name Minnesota Fats after the movie became famous, which upset and angered Tevis. Wanderone was not a particularly good pool player but a relentless self-promoter who was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame for his contributions to popularizing and legitimizing the sport. So pervasive was the myth Wanderone perpetrated that his 1996 Associated Press obituary claimed Tevis had based the character on him, even while acknowledging that Wanderone took the name after the movie came out.
"Another pool player who benefited from the book and movie, though not to the extent of Wanderone, was Eddie Parker, who became known as 'Fast Eddie' like Newman's character. His 2001 Associated Press obituary said Parker's 'billiards play was said to have inspired the book and movie The Hustler.' The article then went on to say Paul Newman starred in the film 'in the role of Mr. Parker.' Another player named Ronnie Allen allegedly claimed the character of Fast Eddie was based on him, despite Tevis's protestations.
"Newman played the character of Fast Eddie Felson again as an older man in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money (1986). After six previous Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, and one honorary award for his lifetime achievement, Newman finally won the statue for this role.
"Jack Lemmon, who was reportedly considered for the part of Fast Eddie, played pool to help his energy during production of Days of Wine and Roses (1962) and insisted the producer have a pool table available for him on the set. 'Seriously, it's not just The Hustler's influence,' Lemmon told an interviewer. 'On my last picture, I found that if I played pool between scenes it kept up my emotional level.'
"There are various versions of the history of pool, but all agree that its origins can be traced back to lawn games, much like today's croquet, as early as 1090. Sometime prior to 1500, the game was brought indoors and eventually onto a table, with a green cloth to simulate grass. (One source cites the first definitive account of the existence of a billiard table was in a 1470 inventory of the possessions of King Louis XI of France.) The game apparently took off in popularity when French King Louis XIV and his court became frequent players.
"The art of 'hustling' may be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when players with colorful names began traveling the country, playing for money, pretending at first to be mediocre, then upping their skills once their opponents were suckered into raising the financial stakes. Hustling pool became more prevalent and popular during the Depression years as a way of making a living. But as with Fast Eddie in this movie, a hustler's career had a short shelf life; even if he kept moving, his reputation and true identity eventually caught up to him.
"In the Kentucky Derby scene, a horse is announced by the name 'Stroke of Luck,' one of the titles considered for the film. Studio execs feared The Hustler might carry negative connotations of prostitution.
"Robert Rossen became ill while making The Hustler and only lived long enough to complete one more movie. Although not well received at the time of its release, many film scholars and critics now condider Lilith (1964) to be Rossen's best film.
"Although he originally refused to testify to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, Rossen later admitted to having been a Communist and in 1953 named 57 others as party members.
"George C. Scott had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor once before, for Anatomy of a Murder (1959). But this time he sent the Academy a letter declining the nomination, the first actor ever to do so. Scott found the whole process demeaning and nothing to do with the actual work, especially criticizing the practice of campaigning for awards. 'I came to see it as a fawning, dizzy "meat contest" staged every spring. The process was not something I could live with comfortably.' When the Academy notified him it was his performance and not himself that was being nominated, he replied that he did not reject the nomination out of petulance or impudence and meant it as a constructive move. A friend of Scott's later noted that the actor (who refused his Best Actor award for Patton, (1970) felt the Oscars 'were just a way for the motion picture companies to make more money on the pictures and had little other value.'
"Joanne Woodward later said that although she was ashamed to admit it, when her husband failed to receive the Best Actor award, she was 'furious and upset and in tears.'
"Although this movie finally gave Piper Laurie the chance to be regarded as a serious and accomplished actor, she got married shortly after and quit acting to raise her children. She did not make another film for 15 years, when she returned as the demented evangelical mother in Carrie (1976), garnering the second of her three Academy Award nominations, this time for Best Supporting Actress (her third was for her supporting role in Children of a Lesser God (1986).
"Both Cliff Robertson and Jack Lemmon were reportedly considered for the lead. Kim Novak told TV host Larry King she had turned down the role of Sarah.
"Rossen asked pool legend Willie Mosconi for casting advice. Mosconi initially suggested his friend Frank Sinatra for the part of Eddie.
"Jackie Gleason made his film debut playing a character called 'Tubby' in Navy Blues (1941), but his film career never really took off and he turned to television, first as the star of the comedy series The Life of Riley (a role he played for only one year before it was taken over by William Bendix). On his weekly series The Jackie Gleason Show, which debuted in 1952, he introduced a sketch segment about a New York bus driver and his long-suffering wife. The Honeymooners became one of the most popular parts of the show and was expanded to a half-hour situation comedy in 1955.
"The Hustler finally gave Gleason the chance to shine as a dramatic actor, and he played several notable film leads and other roles throughout the remainder of his career as well as continuing to appear on television. One of his most famous parts was that of Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit film series of the late 1970s-early 1980s. One of his best performances was his final role, as Tom Hanks' difficult father in Nothing in Common (1986). Gleason died in 1987.
"Eugene Schufftan ... first worked as a cinematographer on the movie Menschen am Sonntag (1930), which also gave a start to such later film artists as Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann, and Billy Wilder.
"This was only the fourth film in which Dede Allen was credited as editor, but it garnered her much praise and attention, as well as a nomination from the American Cinema Editors organization. She started out as a messenger at Columbia Pictures in 1943 and got her first chance as a film cutter because so many of the male technicians were away at war. Her first editing credit was Because of Eve (1948), a low-budget exploitation flick, but she soon rose to become a trusted collaborator with such directors as Robert Wise, Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, and Warren Beatty. For many years, she has been one of the top people in her profession and one of a handful of women to have sustained successful careers behind the camera. When Paul Newman took to directing later in his career, he remembered the fine work Allen did on The Hustler and hired her for Rachel,Rachel (1968) and Harry and Son (1984).
"Boxer Jake LaMotta plays a bartender in one of the pool scenes. Robert De Niro played LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed boxing drama Raging Bull (1980).
"After acclaim on the stage, Paul Newman's film career started badly with the lead in a poorly received sword-and-sandals epic The Silver Chalice (1954). That bomb may have been enough to ruin any career, but Newman bounced back two years later with an outstanding performance as real-life boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). Better parts followed, and by 1958 he was garnering great notices for his work in four films, including his Oscar-nominated role in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). But although big-budget pictures followed, Newman felt himself to be in an acting slump and in need of a career-defining part. He was persuaded by veteran maverick director Robert Rossen that a gritty, downbeat script about a pool shark was what he needed.
"Robert Rossen started in motion pictures as a writer in the late 1930s, finding a natural niche for his talents and sensibilities in the socially conscious dramas produced by Warner Brothers. In the late 40s, particularly after the multiple awards and great acclaim for his hard-hitting adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's political novel All the King's Men (1949), he emerged as one of a new breed of directors able to command a greater sense of independence and control over their work by being their own writers and producers as well. But the 50s had not been the boom years he expected. By the end of the decade, owing in part to difficulties with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, Rossen had released only five pictures, successful enough in varying degrees either critically or commercially. But he was scouting around for a personal project he could truly put his mark on. He found it in Walter Tevis's relatively obscure novel about pool hustlers.
"Rossen apparently had great confidence in the project's ability to become an important, high profile film, and communicated that confidence to the actors he was soliciting for the cast. 'Rossen expected it to be the critical and commercial hit that it was,' according to Piper Laurie. 'I think he said something about we were all going to win Academy Awards. I thought that was sort of crazy, but sweet.'
"Piper Laurie was another participant in this project who needed something new and challenging, a role that would really display her previously untapped gifts as an actress. Talented, intelligent, and with an intense presence she had rarely been able to display on screen, she had started in films in 1950 and spent the decade with only a handful of opportunities to be more than pretty window dressing or a winsome ingenue. With The Hustler, she immediately found something worthy. 'I knew it was a good script. I knew it by page 40, that there was something special about it, but I really didn't think beyond that. I made my decision to do it on page 40, even before you got to my character. I didn't even finish reading the script, as a matter of fact.'
"Although known primarily as a TV comic, Jackie Gleason's dramatic abilities were recognized by Rossen, who sought him for the part of Minnesota Fats. It also helped that Gleason was already a master pool player.
"To help with adapting the screenplay, Rossen brought in Sidney Carroll, whose prior work had been almost exclusively for television.
"The great pool legend Willie Mosconi was brought in as technical adviser and stand-in for the actors on The Hustler (particularly Paul Newman) in the tougher pool shots. Crew members have noted how Mosconi was similar to the Minnesota Fats character as written: well-dressed, fastidious, a player who brought a deep concentration to the game. Other than seeing his hands making some of the shots, Mosconi appears in the picture as the guy who holds the stakes in the contest between Eddie and Fats. Assistant director Ulu Grosbard said that watching Mosconi in action was 'like watching a great violinist or great cellist. There was nothing he couldn't do once he went to work on that pool table.'
"Paul Newman had never even held a pool cue before but picked it up quickly under Mosconi's training. Newman used to go via motorcycle in disguise (to avoid being mobbed by fans) to a girls' high school in New York to practice for many hours. He also removed most of the furniture from the dining room of the home he shared with wife Joanne Woodward to make way for a pool table and spent hours there working with Mosconi. Mosconi not only taught him how to play but how to move about a pool hall like a professional player and hustler.
"Except for some shots done inside Union Station in Los Angeles, the film was shot on location in New York. The scenes of Eddie's matches against Fats were done in the famous Ames Pool Hall near Times Square.
"The picture was shot by Eugene Schufftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.
"Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah's apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors' dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, 'like cells,' but that Piper Laurie furnished hers 'as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.' It was Grosbard's impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.
"Laurie apparently kept mostly to herself during shooting. 'It was just a working set,' she recalled. 'Just intense work- not particularly fun at all. I never met Gleason, although I visited the poolroom. It was fun to meet George C. Scott. It was really just a working set- some fun, some anger.'
"Laurie did become friendly with Newman and Woodward during shooting. At first, she was a little intimidated by his looks. The cast had two full weeks of rehearsal, and on the first day of script table work, Laurie said she found it hard to look at him. She soon got over that, however, and found him extremely easy to work with and to be around.
"Laurie also learned how modest and unassuming Newman was. 'He really didn't believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.'
"To achieve her character's limp, Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. 'Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn't want an obvious limp; he didn't want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.'
"Newman and Gleason established a friendship on the set. At one point, Newman got a little cocky about his newfound pool skills and challenged the much more experienced Gleason to a $50 bet on a game. Newman broke, then it was Gleason's turn. He knocked all 15 balls in and Newman never got another shot. Gleason recalled that the next day Newman paid him off with 5000 pennies.
"The Hustler was edited by Dede Allen near the beginning of her career; she is now one of the most respected professionals in her field. Allen liked working with Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.
"A lot was riding on The Hustler for both the director and the major cast members, and the picture paid off in a big way for all of them. Besides the critical accolades and the film's enduring popularity, it introduced the style and language of the pool hall to a wide audience and created characters so indelible that real-life pool players clamored to be identified as the inspirations for these fictional creations. The Hustler also received nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Supporting Actor (both George C. Scott & Jackie Gleason were honored), and Best Director. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (by Eugene Schufftan) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Harry Horner and Gene Callahan).
"Director Robert Rossen had a promising career, first as a screenwriter of several notable films of the late 30s and early 40s, then as director/producer of hard-hitting dramas such as Body and Soul (1947) and the Oscar-winning All the King's Men (1949). But it all went sour in the 1950s. Refusing to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), Rossen found himself blacklisted. Tortured by his inability to work at the art and profession he loved, Rossen relented in 1953 and confessed his former Communist Party membership, naming other party members to Congress. Though his career had recovered somewhat, his projects in the following years didn't quite live up to his earlier potential. With The Hustler he found at last a story with which to explore his characteristic themes: power, corruption, the lure and dangers of fame and success, and the study of a professional who through talent and ambition rises to hero status in his field, only to be laid low by flaws in his character and the exploitative system around him. It was a project Rossen - as co-writer, producer and director - could make truly his own, and he found the best collaborators to make it happen.
"The ensemble cast also seized the opportunity to make this a breakthrough movie for them. Piper Laurie got the chance to break the mold of pretty ingenue parts she had mostly been offered for a decade. Jackie Gleason, whose film career had gone nowhere in the 50s, was able to prove he was a dramatic actor to be reckoned with and not just a popular TV comedy star. New York stage actor George C. Scott added another outstanding performance to his early film career, and garnered perhaps the best reviews of the picture (today, many people consider Scott's and Gleason's performances to hold far more interest than that of the leads).
"But the person who gained the most from The Hustler was Paul Newman. Although he had survived his disastrous debut in The Silver Chalice (1954) to become a popular leading man and male sex symbol, Newman's performance in The Hustler propelled him into the top ranks of actors and made him the reigning male superstar of the next decade. The role, and Newman's performance of it, also paved the way for the rebel anti-heroes of the 60s, the tormented, less-than-sympathetic characters who would be the central focus of many films and performances by the likes of such 1970s successors to Fast Eddie as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty."