The Hustler belongs to that school of screen realism that allows impressive performances but defeats the basic goal of pure entertainment.
Film is peopled by a set of unpleasant characters set down against a backdrop of cheap pool halls and otherwise dingy surroundings. Chief protagonist is Paul Newman, a pool shark with a compulsion to be the best of the lot – not in tournament play but in beating Chicago’s bigtime player (Jackie Gleason). Unfoldment of the screenplay, based on novel by Walter S. Tevis, is far overlength, and despite the excellence of Newman’s portrayal of the boozing pool hustler the sordid aspects of overall picture are strictly downbeat.
Newman is entirely believable in the means he takes to defeat Gleason, and latter socks over a dramatic role which, though comparatively brief, generates potency. In some respects, the quiet strength of his characterization overshadows Newman in their scenes together. Piper Laurie establishes herself solidly as a hard-drinking floosie who lives with Newman, and George C. Scott scores as a gambler who promotes Newman and teaches him the psychology of being a winner.
1961: Best B&W Cinematography, B&W Art Direction.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Paul Newman), Actress (Piper Laurie), Supp. Actor (Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott [latter nom. refused]), Adapted Screenplay