Eddie (Paul Newman): Well, you don't leave much when you miss, do ya, Fat Man?
Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason): That's what the game's all about.
As I understand it, there were a few attempts to make a movie out of Walter Tevis' novel "The Hustler" before director Robert Rossen gave it a shot, but they all failed, probably because the earlier attempts emphasized pool too much. Rossen used pool as the backdrop to a more human story — a story about winning and losing and simply being human.
His version made it to the big screen and received nine Oscar nominations (two in the same category), winning for Best Black–and–White Cinematography and Best Black–and–White Art Direction. Only "West Side Story," the big winner at the 1962 Oscars, received more nominations.
(As I have written here before, I love black–and–white movies. It's a disappearing art form, one that depends on acting and story telling and camera angles that turn inanimate objects into characters in the story rather than flash and dash and special effects. And "The Hustler," which premiered on this day in 1961, is a great example of that.
(If you don't have to have a lot of "sound and fury signifying nothing," to misquote Shakespeare, you will enjoy movies like "The Hustler." No splashy special effects at all. Just a great story told well with great acting.
(If you've been hesitant to watch black–and–white movies, c'mon. What've you got to lose? In fact, you have everything to gain. "The Hustler" is a good place to start on your journey.)
Of course, it helped to have some heavyweights in the cast. I don't know who was cast in the earlier movies, but Rossen's film starred Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. Newman was a young pool hustler looking to break into big–time pool by beating the legendary Minnesota Fats, played by Gleason. It is a movie that should be seen so I will try not to give too much away if you haven't seen it yet.
But when you do see it, relish the performances. As I say, it is the acting that makes black–and–white movies special, and the acting in this movie was extraordinary — even as it dealt with very ordinary human shortcomings.
Newman wanted to be a big shot, and he was willing to sacrifice just about everything — and everyone — for his goal. That included his girlfriend.
To be fair, his new manager played a pretty significant part in that last one.
Everyone in the cast was great. Gleason was impressive in a rare dramatic role. Newman was always worth watching, even when the movie wasn't too good — that was certainly not the case with this movie. George C. Scott played an unethical manager. Piper Laurie was Newman's rather jaded girlfriend.
Kenyon Hopkins' riveting score was nominated for an Oscar.