(Review originally written in April 2006, contains some spoilers)
Eddy Felson is a man filled to capacity with talent, however what he sorely lacks when first we meet his character in the 1961 classic is ‘character’. He first walks into ‘Ames’ pool hall with a cocky grin hoping only to defeat the great pool hustler Minisota Fats (Played wonderfully here by Jackie Gleason). And he does indeed do that, they engage in a grueling series of marathon pool that at one point see’s Felson up on Fats by an amount of over 10,000 dollars. This would have been an oppertune time for anyone to call it a day. Yet for some reason Eddy refuses to quit until Minisota Fats admits defeat. In the end Felson wears himself down with booze and loses virtually all of his money back to the fat man. This sets up the premise for the rest of the movie. The question is, can fast Eddy find himself some character? Or is he as the gambler/manager character ‘Bert Gordon’ ( a pivotal character in the movie) says ‘A born loser’?
We first meet Bert Gorden during the initial pool match-up at Ames between Fats and Fast Eddy. During this game he observes that at one point during the half-way point of the game that Minisota Fats retires breifly to the bathroom to freshen himself up and come out reinvigorated and ready to play. This is in sharp contrast to fast Eddy who is so hell bent on beating Fats that he is slumped over and half asleep from exhaustion and the consumption of JTS Brown. It is here that Bert notes that Eddy was like a man ‘waiting to lose’, seeing as he had the perfectly good excuse of being drunk. from there he goes on to make the observation that Eddy is engaged in another sport besides playing pool at that moment, the sport of feeling sorry for one’s self. It is indeed a “sport enjoyed by all” as Mr. Gorden so keenly points out to Eddy.
During this movie Eddy is faced with many people who would seek to simply use and manipulate him for his extraordinary gift of pool. First and formost there is his original partner Charlie, who hopes to hustle up enough money off of Eddy to open up his own pool room one day. Next there is the aforementioned Gorden, who besides being a gambler is also a world class parasite off of the labors of others, (somewhat like the Vince McMahon of billiards you could say). The only two people Eddy meets in this movie who are actually open and honest with him without having any aspirations of their own are Minisota Fats (who grows to admire Eddy in the end for his character and his ability on the pool table) and Eddy’s love interest Sarah. The character of Sarah played in this movie is one of the most tortured characters I have ever seen. She is a drunk and a liar who somehow finds true love with this traveling pool hustler Eddy Felson. She wants for nothing but for Eddy to be happy, and to stick with her no matter what. In the end she winds up becoming a casualty of the relationship between Eddy and Bert Gorden. The scene where Eddy finds her dead body in a hotel room bathroom with the words ‘Perverted’ ‘Twisted’ and ‘crippled?’ (not sure on that last one) marks the pivotal turning point in Felson’s life. It is truly where he finds, his character.
When he returns to Ames for his rematch with Minisota Fats he has by his own account found his character. He found it lying dead in a hotel room in Louisville Kentucky as a matter of fact. In the final pool match Eddy lambastes at his former oppressor Bert Gorden.. “We really stuck it in her didn’t we?” He finally at this point realizes that he did indeed love Sarah, and he notes that he ‘traded her in’ on a cheap game of pool. Much more is said during this final pool room scene, and all of it is powerful and acted out wonderfully without going over the top by Newman.
In the second game Eddy easily defeats Fats. But more importantly he stands up to the man who wants most wants to do him harm. In the final scene of the movie he issues a stern warning to the evil personified character of Gorden. In this warning he basically states that if Bert wants to send his goons after him, that they had better ‘get the job done’ for he swore that if they did not, he would return and kill Bert for his crimes. It is after this that Bert agrees to free Eddy of his contract, and let’s him go freely, however the price Eddy pays for this is a high one. He has regained his freedom in the end, but he winds up losing the one thing he loved (or thought he loved) more than anything in the entire world, his ability to play big time pool.
But all’s well that ends well, because presumably long after the character of Bert Gorden dies and Felson is an old man in the movie ‘The Color of Money’ he gets his chance to recapture some of his lost luster. And he even gets to shoot the ivory with Tom Cruise. My rating for this movie? Five stars – A classic to be treasured forever.
The Hustler gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.