Watched: October 20 2018

Director: Robert Rossen

Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Eddie Felson (Newman) and Charlie Burns (McCormick) are hustling their way across the USA with the goal to challenge legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason). Find him they do, and the bigwig agrees to play Eddie, starting at $200 per game.

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“How does this work again? Do they both hit the balls at the same time, or..?” “Dunno. I thought they were supposed to take turns or something.” – Real conversation between sisters watching this

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While Eddie gets off to a flying start, he gets drunk, conceited and easily manipulated and end up losing his entire $18 000 winnings back to Minnesota (the guy, not the state. Maybe we should just go with “Fats”?).

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He doesn’t mind what we call him. He’s just happy to be here.

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Humiliated and broke, Eddie leaves Charlie and half of his remaining money and skulks off into the night. At a bus station he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), a charming alcoholic with a limp, and the two strike up a conversation and later a relationship.

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Ain’t no romance like a bus stop romance ’cause a bus stop romance don’t end (well)!

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The two seem happy together for a while, but then gambler Bert Gordon (Scott) offers to put up Eddie’s stakes in return for 75% of his winnings, and Eddie goes back out into the world of semi-professional pool playing – a world Sarah can see is no good for him. Or anyone else for that matter. But is Eddie ready to let his grudge against Minnesota Fats go? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to get a second chance at besting him?

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“I mean, what do you want with these people? That guy wears shades inside! And I swear that lady just took a flower pot, turned it upside down and called it a hat!”

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We love how there’s very little preamble and backstory to The Hustler. We’re thrown right into the action and never given a moment to stop and catch our breaths until the end.

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Who knew watching people play pool could be so exciting?

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Paul Newman is fantastic in it, and Piper Laurie, reminding us of a (wonderful) cross between Carey Mulligan and Stockard Channing (Grease-era Channing, specifically), equally so. Sure, it centers around pool (ugh – a sport!) but that is not what this movie is about. So if you, like us, tend to avoid these kinds of films, give this one a chance. You (probably) won’t regret it. It’s powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

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Ah, what could have been…

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What we learned: We know way too little about the rules of pool. Also, don’t pursue obsessions at the cost of human relationships.

Next time: The Innocents (1961)

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