The Hustler: A Gambling Film Review


Posted: June 24, 2015

Updated: March 14, 2023

The film was the prequel to “The Color of Money” starring Tom Cruise.

The Hustler, based on the Walter Tevis novel of the same title, is a lurid tale about a young person who wants to be the best so badly, that he gives up everything to accomplish it. Hailed as a classic, the film received nine Academy Award Nominations winning two for “Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.” Its star Paul Newman was nominated for “Best actor” as was Jackie Gleason for “Best Supporting Actor.”

• The Hustler was nominated for 9 academy awards including “Best Actor”
• The story was the classic tale of the “fall of man motivated by greed.”
• Fast Eddie hustled in pool, life and love and paid the ultimate price.

Well known in U.S gambling news, Newman performed adeptly as the young, hungry hustler pitted against Jackie Gleason as the pool legend “Minnesota Fats” who was truly a great in his time. Fat’s character was based on Rudolph Wanderone, who was known as New York Fats. The film strives to capture man’s attempt fulfill himself as a human being and only achieves his goal after reaching self-awareness through “personal tragedy.”

Enter Fast Eddie Felson and Minnesota Fats

Fast Eddıe Felson ıs a pool hustler from Oakland, California whose traveled to Ames to challenge the billiards legend Mınnesota Fats. At Fat’s home pool hall, Eddie vows to win USD 10,000 that night. As Eddie waits, he asks who is the best. Upon hearing the name Minnesota Fats, Eddie starts to claim how good he is, but to no avail, he only hears that Fats is the best.

After waiting, Minnesota Fats enters the pool hall, agrees to play Eddie for USD 200 a game. Eddie acts out his role in the classic way that’s part of a hustler’s repertoire and loses early only to come back and get ahead by USD 1,000. As expected, Eddie tries to “up the stakes.” Fats, being the best, held back his talent and lures Eddie into offering the increase. After Fats accepts, he sends a guy to the Johnny’s bar to get a bottle of whiskey.

Of course, Fats also wants to notify Bert Gordon, financier and professional gambler, about the pool game. Before long, Eddie is ahead by USD 11,000 while his partner Charlie is begging him to quit while he’s ahead of his USD 10,000 goal. Knowing that Fat’s is actually down and could be completely beaten, Eddie decides to continue and go for the crown. Gordon labels Eddie a loser and Fats turns around his game.

The film continues to show brilliant montage footage of textbook billiards and an experience that can’t be learned through mobile casino gambling. After 25 hours, Eddie who was ahead by USD 18,000 is left with an empty bottle of bourbon, USD 200, and a floor to collapse on. The next scene, in a hotel, shows Eddie putting half his remaining money with Charlie and leaving for the bus terminal. As he attempts to put his belongings in a terminal locker, he notices a woman sitting at a counter having coffee.

Eddie’s down and out but finds a way back to Minnesota

After approaching the woman, Eddie finds out that her name is Sarah Packard, a woman working who is out of college, an alcoholic and burdened with a limp. Once they meet later in a bar and get to know each other more. Although they go back to Sarah’s place, she is unwilling to let her in. Eddie stays in a rooming out and starts to regroup by making small hustles while continuing his “hustle” of Sarah.

Finally able to get into Sarah’s apartment, he agrees to “stick around.” Charlie finally finds Eddie at Sarah’s and tries to convince him to accompany him on the road again, but Eddie refuses. The two argue once Eddie finds out that Charlie intentionally withheld his share of money to protect him. Having even more reason to face Fat’s again, Eddie stays. Eddie finally finds opportunity at Johnny’s Bar in the form of a heated poker game.

Gordon commands the table as Eddie loses USD 20. Upon stating that Eddie has talent and not character, Gordon decides to stake the “born loser” USD 3,000 in return for 75 percent of his winnings. Eddie refuses and walks away. Later, Eddie is seen hustling a local pool shark and in retaliation his friends break Eddie’s thumbs. Sarah cares for him and her feelings grow for him. Once healthy, Eddie accepts Gordon’s offer.

Gordon takes Eddie and Sarah to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby where he can gamble within U.S gambling laws. Also, Gordon gets Eddie to play a surprise game of “carom billiards” against wealthy gambler. Due to Eddie’s unfamiliarity with the game, he loses. In a fit of greed and insensitivity, Eddie rejects Sarah and wins USD 12,000. Eddie loses more as Sarah goes to Gordon’s room, gets drunk, has sex with him and then kills herself.

An emotionally beaten Eddie, returns to Fats and puts his USD 3,000 on one game in which he dominates Fats without mercy. Gordon demands his share, but Eddie blames him for Sarah’s death and threatens him back. Gordon refrains and tells Eddie never to enter another major pool hall again. Eddie exits the pool hall and doesn’t return to a major pool hall for 25 years.

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