Paul Newman was born in 1925 and started making films in 1954. Despite amazing performances in classic such as Someone Up There Likes Me, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy, he had to wait till 1986 till he received a special Academy Award. His performance as Fast Eddie Felson, a man at war him himself, is a must see – regardless of if you like playing pool or not!
The film’s director Robert Rossen once said, "My protagonist, Fast Eddie, wants to become a great pool player, but the film is really about the obstacles he encounters in attempting to fulfil himself as a human being. He attains self-awareness only after a terrible personal tragedy which he has caused — and then he wins his pool game.”
The legenadey Jake LaMotta (who inspired Raging Bull) appears in this film as a bartender. Somehow Newman is more believable as a pool shark than Robert De Niro was as a boxer. One of my favourite scenes contains this speech which nobody could deliver better than Newman.
“When I'm goin', when I'm really goin', I feel like a, like a jockey must feel when he's sittin' on his horse, he's got all that speed and that power underneath him, he's coming into the stretch, the pressure's on him - and he knows. He just feels, when to let it go and how much. 'Cause he's got everything workin' for him - timing, touch. It's a great feeling, boy - it's a real great feeling - when you're right and you know you're right. Like all of a sudden, I got oil in my arm. Pool cue's part of me. You know, it's a - pool cue, it's got nerves in it. It's a piece of wood; it's got nerves in it. You can feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look. You just know. You make shots that nobody's ever made before. And you play that game the way nobody's ever played it before.”
Robert Rossen is believed to have named names during the McCarthy era. Some critics have suggested there’s some sort of parallel between Rossen’s bad decision in this matter and Fast Eddie’s alliance with the character Bert Gordon. Whatever Rossen did or didn’t do wrong in his life he was wise to rope in the cameraman Eugene Schufftan to help with The Hustler. Schufftan had made his name working with Fritz Lang on Metrpolis and was a genius at framing shots and knowing how to make scenes unforgettably tense and claustrophobic. This film from 1961 is brilliant.
Text by Denni Rusking 2017