You've heard so much about Jackie Gleason's performance as Minnesota Fats, but really, his part isn't all that large. And you had no idea George C. Scott was even in the movie—or that George C. Scott, along with Gleason, received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance. Scott famously 'refused' to be nominated; he hated the whole Oscar rigamarole, calling it a 'goddamn meat parade' and never accepted his Best Actor for Patton!
Scott is wonderfully bad in The Hustler, just a real dirty piece of work, out for himself, a vulture, leach, parasite, whatever you want to label the kind of man who profits of someone else's talent. A pimp? A Hollywood agent? He's also the ultimate cock-blocker!
While The Hustler is ostensibly about pool, it's really more about this man, Eddie, this anti-hero type, who has the talent but maybe not the character, to make his own dreams come true. The one sheet above has more to do with the the real meaning of the film than the more pool-oriented versions of the movies poster do.
And what about Piper Laurie as Sarah, the woman Newman falls for. Or is he just using her? She's a lush—that's what they would have called her in 1961—and most likely a prostitute. As far as Geroge C. Scott's character, Burt Gordon, is concerned, she's part of Fast Eddie's problem, makes the man forget his ambition for a moment. She's the one that gums up the works, and is most likely to prevent Gordon from getting his big fat share of Fast Eddie's prize. Except for the fact that Sarah's a pro, she's not unlike the character of Grace, played by Julie Harris in Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Oh, we women are always stopping men from achieving their big dreams, aren't we? What would they do without us for an excuse? But I digress ... Piper and Newman both earned Oscar nominations for their lead roles, neither won. The highly acclaimed film did win both the Best Black & White Cinematography and Best Set Decoration awards.
"If Hemingway had the passion for pool that he had for bullfighting, his hero might have been Eddie Felson."—TimeHere's the trailer
You probably know that Newman reprised his Fast Eddie role a quarter of a century later in The Color of Money directed by Martin Scorsese. Also based on a Walter Tevis novel, Eddie teaches his protege, Tom Cruise, the ropes.