The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler – 1961

Director – Robert Rossen

Starring – Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott

Heading into this movie, I realize now, I had a lot of pre-conceptions.  Not so much about the quality of the film, whether it would be good or bad, but more about the content of the film.  Thanks to countless posters in the various seedy billiards rooms that I frequent, I just assumed that there would be more pool than there was.  Also, I apparently wrongly assumed just who the hustler mentioned in the title of the film was.

For those, like me apparently, who aren’t too familiar with the story, The Hustler follows the driven ambition of “Fast” Eddie Felson.  Felson, played famously by Paul Newman is a small time hustler looking to beat the best in the billiards game, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), and claim the crown of the best pool player around.  Fats along with his shifty gambling buddy played by George C. Scott, seeing Felson’s reckless ambition for what it is, work to exploit, and take advantage of him.

Along the way, Fast Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), a woman so defeated by life, that she takes his interest as a sort of cruel taunt.  In reality, he feels as though he can fully be himself around her, without apology for his shortcomings.  The attention re-awakens her hope for a normal life.  Life for the couple starts to feel more and more normal, until that is, the real hustler, George C. Scott’s Bert, convinces Fast Eddie to go out on the road, running hustles and making money for him.  This drives a wedge in their relationship and threatens to ruin everything they’ve built.

As far as the movies that feature the character Fast Eddie Felson, I prefer Martin Scorsese’s take with The Color of Money, although the Hustler is certainly a good, if not great movie.  It may be due to my mood going into watching it, but I was really hoping for more action than drama, more suspense than revelation.

I wanted the cocky Felson to be a bit tougher, a little less pathetic throughout the film.  He is far more of a victim than he is a hustler.  It is certainly viable to create a story that ends unhappily, this film just made me sad.  For a guy who is clearly looking for acceptance, he sure gives away the acceptance he gets from Sarah without a thought about her or even himself.  The only thing that seems to matter to him is being the best in the eyes of those who are laughing at him and using him for their own gain.  As a result I was left more than a little wanting, and felt rather downcast after finishing it.  Despite their best efforts to craft a noir-ish character and setting, the movie seemed to be missing something.  Even the cinematography and music seemed somewhat forgettable to me.

I don’t mean to treat this movie harshly, clearly it had an impact on me, just not the one I was looking for going into it.  The image I have of the character is what I was left with from The Color of Money, a man who despite defeat, doesn’t give up.  Despite, humiliation, has a certain self-awareness, and despite conventional relationships, has carved out a little place for himself in the world.

Truth be told, I’ve had a certain blossoming of respect for this film just in writing down my feelings about it, although I think it says more for Martin Scorsese re-visit of the characters than it does for anything else.

I would say that despite the fact that I liked it, I definitely didn’t like it enough to include it on the list of 1001 movies.  There was an element missing either in the movie or what I wanted from it i’m not sure, but it’s missing just the same.  Either way, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t quite work for me.

“They play pool and stuff” – Ashley

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Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

SherlockJr

Sherlock, Jr. – 1924

Directors – Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton

Starring – Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, and Joe Keaton

The strength of any Buster Keaton performance is his supreme physicality. The man’s ability to use props, his co-stars, as well as his own body to carry out extremely fun and inventive sight gags and stunts is second to none.

Especially considering the fact that his subject of his derring-do often revolves around moving vehicles (trains and cars are what I’m thinking of specifically), it is made only that much more dangerous, and consequently impressive. The weak area of the Keaton films that I’ve seen thus far (The General, and this), are the parts where he has to carry the parts in between the major stunt set-pieces. While far surpassing a lot of the action sequences in most movie of his day, Keaton is trumped when it comes to the dramatic acting. In that arena he is bested by other comedians like Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers.

Sherlock, Jr. is a short film, lasting only about 35 minutes, which I think works in the film’s favor. If it were too much longer, it would drag, and if it were feature length it would eventually become agonizing! As it is, I was more than entertained by film the entire time, and caught myself checking my watch only because I was watching some food in the oven.

The music for this production, just like in The General, serves the purpose of helping pace the film. During the action sequences, the piano music is peppy and lively. Likewise when the story wants us to dwell on the Keaton’s love interest, the music slows down and we know what’s going to happen. This tendency of using the music this way helps to keep the slower parts interesting, but allows for no surprises in the plot. We know immediately what the tone of the scene is going to be. That being said, I don’t think anyone really watches a Buster Keaton movie wondering if he’ll actually get the girl, they watch to see him do what he does best…perform.

Now I realize that Buster Keaton is a pioneer in the movie industry, but he has so many films in this book of 1001, yet some who have carried on in his name like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung are not recognized at all in this list.  While I am looking forward to seeing whatever else Mr. Keaton has in store for me in his other films, it seems only right that other performers get recognition too.  So if you liked Sherlock, Jr. check out Dragons Forever, Eastern Condors, or Armor of God (also known as Operation Condor 2: Armor of God).