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The Hustler

Screening on Film
Directed by Robert Rossen.
With Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie.
US, 1961, 35mm, black & white, 135 min.
Print source: 20th Century Fox

Like Fast Eddie Felson, it seems that Robert Rossen’s journey to the depths of hell summoned all of his creative forces to align. Every element as precise and ambiguous as a physics puzzle, Rossen’s black-and-white Cinemascope screen mirrors the grungy, lonely glamour of the midwestern American pool halls where Fast Eddie displays as many confounding skills in his pool game as in his artful swindling. The scintillating performances of Paul Newman’s charming hustler, Piper Laurie’s troubled, perceptive Sarah and George C. Scott’s manipulative mastermind bounce off of one another in a high stakes game that aims beyond the shabby theatrics of the pool hall and into politics, filmmaking and the daily trafficking of the human spirit. The layers of masks and manipulation never fully peel away from the propaganda that all the “twisted, perverted, crippled” characters use to protect themselves and somehow “win.” Rossen’s search through night clubs, boxing rings, political parties and ancient Rome all seem to lead to Eddie’s chance to beat Minnesota Fats. At the end of a complex, tragic, gracefully executed game, exile may be the price of enlightenment. 

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The Bodies and Souls of Robert Rossen

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