There’s a long and unspoken acknowledgment that the archetypal “sports movie,” has almost nothing to do with sport in favor of a life lesson. The fact that the plot, milieu, characters and themes revolve around the sport is secondary to the nested life lessons. In 1961’s The Hustler, “Fast Eddie” Felson is the best pool player around. He knows it, his loyal manager knows it and, in turn, everyone else knows it. He (we) learn(s) that it’s hard at the top; to be the best means to be lonely and satiated. The Hustler is a sports movie, but like all sports movies and like all sports, a higher meaning adds purpose to the simplicity of competition.
We meet “Fast Eddie,” as he’s known, waiting to challenge the best pool player he can find, with the goal of taking him down. We meet “Minnesota Fats,” as he’s known, a humble and talented pool player, who no one’s beaten in almost two decades. Surely an exaggeration, it sets the scene for an epic performance from both Paul Newman (as Eddie) and the incomparable Jackie Gleason (as Fats). Director Robert Rossen, intriguingly also the writer, demonstrates Eddie’s fast up-and-down character as he wins, wins, wins against Fats, only to completely fall apart and lose, lose, lose all but his original vig. About twenty minutes in, the real story starts. The man “Fast Eddie” is moving slow, having lost his confidence, his support system and his home. We meet his love interest, Piper Laurie (as Sarah), and out comes the struggle, both internal and external. Both are equally interesting. Continue reading