Based on a novel by Walter Tevis, Robert Rossen’s tough, sardonic 1961 classic about an amoral pool shark was electrifying stuff, with Paul Newman giving one of his tautest performances as ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, the arrogant poolroom hustler who fleeces everyone dumb enough to challenge him.
That is, of course, until he takes on Minnesota Fats (comedian Jackie Gleason excelling in a rare dramatic role), the legendary pool champ who will stop at nothing to defend his title.
One terrific scene shows Eddie lose his hustling discipline after being taunted by local thugs. Fed up with holding back his natural skill he suggests a straight game, first to nine frames.
He racks the balls, breaks, all the balls disappear – “That’s one”, he yells. Very cool for sure . . . of course, later they break his thumbs!
George C. Scott was great as a predatory gambler determined to destroy Newman, and Piper Laurie was piercing as a lonely loser who makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with a man who is more in love with billiards.
A riveting drama that crackled with cinematic tension. (A sequel, The Color of Money, was made by Martin Scorsese in 1986 with Paul Newman re-creating his original role and winning an Oscar for his efforts.)
For his role, Newman was coached by pool great Willie Mosconi.
‘Fast’ Eddie Felson
George C. Scott