The Hustler begins with a great hustle. Eddie Felson, brilliantly played by a young Paul Newman, leans low over a barroom pool table, inspecting the cue ball and another ball pinned together on the side rail less than a foot from the end pockets. An impossible shot, and to add to the fun, Felson's drunk. Good thing no one told him; stumbling over to the facing side, he lines up and drains the ball. His partner in this con game is a pudgy fellow named Charlie (Myron McCormick), who has the perfect look of a man so well-acquainted with losing he can see it coming a mile down the pipe and who lays a bet against his boy repeating the magic shot. Eddie tries and misses. Within seconds he has the whole pool hall betting on his chances at his third go-round.

 The movie follows Eddie from his match against billiards champ Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) as he falls in love with Sarah (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic would-be writer and sometime prostitute, and falls under the spell of Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a successful gambler who offers to take Eddie under his wing and teach him how to play in the big time.

There are only a handful of movie characters so real that the audience refers to them as touchstones. Fast Eddie Felson is one of them. The pool shark played by Paul Newman in "The Hustler" (1961) is indelible--given weight because the film is not about his victory in the final pool game, but about his defeat by pool, by life, and by his lack of character. 
This is one of the few American movies in which the hero wins by surrendering, by accepting reality instead of his dreams.


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