Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pool Hustlers and Life

Okay, over the next few weeks I'm going to start commenting on my favorite movies as I watch them again and refresh my memories of them. Unfortunately I probably won't get around to Celine And Julie Go Boating any time soon because it's not on DVD. Other than that I'll start with my all-time favorite:


It's been said before but when Paul Newman won his only Best Actor Oscar for playing Fast Eddie Felson in The Color Of Money, he won for the right role but the wrong movie. His Fast Eddie in The Hustler is the center of an incredible film, a fable about ambition, greed, life, death and love told in the story of a pool hustler whose overarching ambition is to be called the greatest pool player of all time.
This movie is most famous for its pool scenes but it has so much more especially in the scenes between Fast Eddie and his sad, alcoholic girlfriend played by Piper Laurie. A beautiful, tragic love story emerges as they go from being two sordid losers screwing and drinking like hermits in their apartment, become more of a normal young couple in love after Eddie breaks his thumbs and temporarily cannot play pool and spiral back down to disaster after the slimy Bert Gordon, played brilliantly by George C. Scott, becomes Eddie's manager.
The blowaway ending of the film is not the final pool game where Eddie finally beats Minnesota Fats. It's the beautiful sequence immediately after when he confronts Bert, realizing that the tragedy that destroyed his girlfriend killed him inside and that he has sacrified his humanity to become the "winner" he always wanted to be. It's a perfect example of "Be careful what you wish for."
Watching the film again I noticed the homosexual subtext for the first time, that Bert, in essence pimps out Eddie, especially in setting up a match for him with an effeminate billiards player at the Kentucky Derby played by Murray Hamilton. Eddie looks so disheveled and disgusted at the end of that scene you wonder if they were doing something else besides playing billiards.
There's also the amazing subtlety in the first marathon pool sequence where little is said but characters are delineated and the story told all through posture and looks. Watching the faces of Bert, Eddie, Fats and Eddie's manager, Charlie, tells you all you need to know. I also picked up on how uniformly great the acting is in this movie. Newman, Scott, Laurie, Jackie Gleason and Myron McCormick in his few scenes as Charlie are all outstanding. I feel drained every time I finish watching this movie. It's like watching a man descend into Hell.

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