This dark stunner, based on Walter Tevis's novel, boasts Paul Newman in the role that made him an overnight superstar. The treatment feels like a cross between Hemingway and Odets and there are some affectations with dialogue. But Rossen knows how to frame his story and give his actors
room to breathe, eliciting terrific performances from everyone.
"Fast" Eddie Felson is a pool shark who hustles his way across the country to Ames Billiard Parlor in New York, where he challenges the unbeatable Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Penniless and alone, Eddie falls in love with Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic cripple; then, after a return
to small-time hustling that leads to two thug-administered broken thumbs, Eddie teams up with gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), who becomes his backer but also personifies a vision of evil.
With the help of Gene Shufton's Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography, producer-writer-director Robert Rossen offers a grim world where the only bright spot is the top of the pool table, yet his characters maintain a shabby nobility and grace. Gleason is brilliantly detached, witty, and
charming as Fats; sexy, waifish Laurie offers some of the best work of her career; Scott is evil incarnate; and Newman is simply unforgettable in his Oscar-nominated role (he would have to play Fast Eddie again 25 years later in the excellent sequel, THE COLOR OF MONEY, to actually win his first
Academy Award). The great pool player Willie Mosconi coached Gleason and Newman in their shots. Not to be missed.
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