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The Hustler
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Genre:Drama
Year:1961
Rating:NR
Length:2 Hours 15 Minutes
Cast:Robert Rossen, Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie

Paul Newman unnerved moviegoers with his multilayered portrayal of a thoroughgoing heel in this superb 1961 adaptation of Walter Tevis's gritty novel about an amoral pool hustler. Undeniably sordid but grimly compelling, The Hustler chronicles the rise and fall of its seamy protagonist, "Fast Eddie" Felson, a cocky but talented small-timer determined to make a name for himself by besting Chicago's cue-ball king, the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason, in what is arguably his finest screen characterization). Newman is absolutely riveting throughout, but no less so than Piper Laurie -- a dewy-eyed ing‚nue only a few years previous, she delivers the performance of her career as a hard-drinking floozie. George C. Scott lends memorable support as the big-time gambler who takes Fast Eddie under his wing, only to betray him at a crucial juncture. Director Richard Rossen (All the King's Men) captured the seedy milieu down to the tiniest detail, and Eugene Shuftan won a well-deserved Oscar for his smoky, mood-enhancing, black-and-white cinematography. Resolutely resisting the temptations to sugarcoat its subject and contrive a typical Hollywood happy ending, The Hustler heaps misfortune and tragedy on Fast Eddie, who ultimately finds the grace to accept defeat and stumble toward redemption. (Director Martin Scorsese later got Newman to reprise the role, with Oscar-winning results, for his 1986 hit The Color of Money). The DVD Special Edition of this deeply affecting classic includes an audio commentary by Newman and various crew members and film historians, among other features. Ed Hulse

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