Friday, July 17, 2009

"You're too hungry..." ~ The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler (1961) is not about pool. It's about one man, "Fast" Eddie Felson, and pool just happens to be the medium through which his story is told.

When a new person comes into your life in a significant way things inevitably change. If you are lucky, that new person improves your life and your outlook on it. This is what I call the "new-person dynamic" and so many great stories in literature and film are based around this concept. Personally, I have found that this dynamic always proves to be enriching. Everyone brings their own perspective and one can't help but see things differently when exposed to that other perspective. Think about the important people in your life that were introduced to you at one point and how they changed your life afterwards. Now think about your favorite film and how the new-person dynamic was a catalyst for the story. Kind of eye-opening isn't it?

The most interesting part of The Hustler (1961) for me is the love story between Eddie (Paul Newman) and Sarah (Piper Laurie). And no it's not because I'm female and I'd rather see love-dovey scenes than watch people play pool and gamble. Rather, it's because when Sarah is introduced into the story Eddie's character begins to evolve. The film starts off at a very slow and quiet pace and when Sarah and Eddie meet the rest of the film gradually quickens until it reaches it's climax. Without Sarah, Eddie would just be another hustler playing for a big pay-off. With Sarah, we watch Eddie's interactions with her and we start to learn how tortured these two characters are.

My favorite line of dialogue in the movie is spoken by Sarah when Eddie takes Sarah to her apartment and kisses her passionately outside her door. She pulls away from him and says to him, "You're too hungry". They've only known each other for a few hours and already she has discovered Eddie's major weakness and has revealed to us the most important part of Eddie's character. Eddie is a constant state of consumption. He downs JTS Brown (Bourbon Whiskey), he incessantly gambles in pool and he's is constantly striving to be the best hustler. This constant hunger proves to be his downfall. He continues to consume even though it puts his relationship with Sarah at risk.

I'm really very happy I watched this film. I had been avoiding it for years and it took that new-person dynamic in my own life for me to give it a chance. This film happens to be my new beau Carlos' favorite film. Just sensing his enthusiasm about The Hustler and talking to him afterwards about the different themes in the story, enriched my experience with the film. I hope this means I get to watch lots of other movies that have been off my radar but have been on his.


  1. Brutal, isn't it? It's rare that we get so unrelenting a look at a flawed character these days. I stayed away from this movie for years too, but it's simply one of the best.

  2. I haven't watched this one yet, but I'm intrigued now.. I usually shy away from sports movies (I'm such a girl) but ones that have a deep personal story usually overcome that for me, like Body and Soul or Champion.

    Congrats on finding a beau who will actually watch classic films! Sounds like a keeper ;)

  3. Tommy - Brutal is a good word for it Tommy. I wish I had used it in my post!

    Kate - I know you like a good love story, and I think that's why you should watch this!

  4. Ohh I'm quite looking forward to this movie, because I have actually been pushing it off to the side but I do think I will give it a try. It sounds really good, great review. :)

  5. "Fast and Loose!"

    yeah no doubt this is one heck of a great film! now you need to see "The Color of Money" which in my opinion has an even better performance from Paul Newman. one aspect of the Hustler that i love dearly is that it has what is probably the best big-screen role Jackie "The Great One" Gleason ever played (my other choice being Buford T Justice in Smokey in the bandit, seriously!).

  6. Love this movie. Sarah does have a lot of insights... then again, so does Burt. He's rather blunt about Eddie being a born loser, yet he sees truth there about winning and losing and character.

    I find it interesting when these two characters finally meet up, they both are clear about what's happening. Burt knows Sarah is just barely hanging on, Sarah calls Burt out as a Roman -- how he has to win them all and how he's riding on Eddie's talent. It ends up being too much truth. New-person dynamic at work? Maybe. In a negative way.

  7. I think you are right. Sarah is a catalyst for change in Eddie's life. I think in many ways the movie is not about pool at all, but how our relationships can be positive (Eddie's one with Sarah) or negative (his one with Burt). It's what truly make this film so great.

  8. God I love this movie. :) Before watching I thought it was only about pool too. Was pleasantly surprised that it's so much more than that.

  9. Nice post, and very intelligent analysis of that intriguing "new-person dynamic".

  10. I've been watching this movie for over forty years now, and I'm ready to watch it again. I so miss these downbeat dramas from that last hurrah of black-and-white-film-making in the early-to-mid 60s.

  11. This is one of Newman’s best anti-hero roles, a classic sixties rebel. The acting in this film is of a level that you rarely see on one film by so many actors/. Not just Newman, but Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, if you think he is just Ralph Kramden, watch this, and the great George C. Scott as one of the slimiest SOB’s on celluloid.

    Robert Rossen who wrote and directed was one of the most adult filmmakers of his era who work as a writer and or director included Body and Soul, All the King’s Men and , Johnny O’Clock.

  12. Brings back memories; one of the first Paul Newman films I ever saw.

    Piper Laurie gives such a powerful performance in it!


  13. Bleak, but great film. George C. Scott is impressive in a support role behind Newman and Laurie.


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