Filmsite Movie Review
The Hustler (1961)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

In their third encounter, Sarah seeks out Eddie at the bus station cafe and wordlessly communicates her needfulness. Inevitably, they leave together as a couple and return to her apartment for sex. Afterwards, he promises he'll "be back later" with his things from his rented room, although Sarah has doubts about the viability of their living together: "When I'm drunk, I lie...Look, I've got troubles and I think maybe you've got troubles. Maybe it'd be better if we just leave each other alone." Her life changes for the better with him when she imagines that she has a steady boyfriend: "I've been living here almost three years. Now in three days, it seems as if I know everybody. I pass people on the street. I want to stop them and say, 'Listen, I got a fella.'"

Secretive, Eddie reveals little about himself and his daily routines, telling her that his pool case contains a deadly machine gun for self-defense: "This guy told me when I came to the big city, I'd have to have a machine gun, so I bought one." He suggests that she seek "treatments" at a clinic for her alcoholism, but she counters that housekeeping with him is more therapeutic: "I'm giving treatments right here." According to her, her funds for "liquor, groceries, and rent" come from "a rich old man who used to be my lover."

Penniless, Charlie locates Eddie at Sarah's apartment by asking around. He questions Eddie's desertion after a life-long partnership:

We were partners. We were more than partners.

Eddie refuses to go back on the road ("I've got no stomach for that anymore. I've had that kind of life"), still obsessed with having a fatalistic rematch against Minnesota Fats at Ames: "I'm gonna beat that Fat Man, with that curly hair and those diamond rings and that carnation." Charlie brags about Eddie's con abilities to Sarah, making her feel equally vulnerable, doubtful and victimized by him:

Charlie: This boy is the greatest pool hustler you ever saw, a real high-class con-man. He can charm anybody into anything. Did he ever tell you how well we've been doing on the road. We had everything. We ate good, we slept late, we had money to burn. Whiskey, dames, excuse me. I'll tell you what, take her along. I'll tell you what else, you don't want to start right away, we won't start it right away. We'll get in the car and drive to Miami, get all this crud out of your system. Have a few laughs, lie in the sun for a couple of weeks.
Eddie: With what?
Charlie: Don't worry about it. I'll raise the money.
Eddie: Oh yeah, where?
Charlie: What's the difference where? I'll raise it.

When Charlie admits that he held out on him ("my twenty-five percent, approximately fifteen hundred bucks"), Eddie calls him a "crumb" and "a small-time Charlie," cruelly dismissing him forever and ordering his old pal to "lay down and die":

With that fifteen hundred, I could have beat him. That's all I needed Charlie...You'd love to keep me hustlin' for ya, huh, wouldn't ya? I mean, a couple more years with me scufflin' around, in them little towns and those back alleys, you might make yourself enough to get a little pool room back in Oakland - six tables and a handbook on the side...Lay down and die by yourself.

After Charlie leaves, Eddie expresses his suffocation and claustrophobia when in committed partnerships: "Boy! Everybody, everybody wants a piece of me." Life takes a down-turn for them: dishes and garbage pile up in the kitchen, and Sarah has begun drinking heavily. As a would-be writer, she pecks at a typewriter on a make-believe story, similar to her own bitter life's story - "a story I'm making up." It characterizes their grim, uncommunicative relationship together: "We have a contract of depravity. All we have to do is pull the blinds down." Sarah describes their empty life of booze and sex:

Sarah: What else have we got? We never talk about anything. We stay in this room and we drink and make love. We're strangers. What happens when the liquor and the money run out, Eddie? You told Charlie to lay down and die. Will you say that to me too? What happens, Eddie?
Eddie: Just buy yourself another rich old lover.
Sarah: That's right, and I'm sure you'll help me. (He viciously slaps her across the face.) You waiting for me to cry? You bum. You pool-room bum.

Later, in the backroom of a barroom, Eddie joins a poker card-game in progress with Bert Gordon - after losing twenty bucks, they share a drink and conversation, with Gordon criticizing him as an excuse-finding, compulsive loser: " start drinking whiskey gambling - it gives you an excuse for losing. That's something you don't need, an excuse for losing." The sinister, parasitic entrepreneur criticizes Eddie while presenting his psychology of winning. Gordon accuses him of losing the match with Fats because he lacked "character," not because of his unquestioned pool-playing talent:

Gordon: I don't think there's a pool player alive who shoots better pool than I saw you shoot the other night at Ames. You got talent.
Eddie: So I got talent? So what beat me?
Gordon: Character.
Eddie: Sure, sure.
Gordon: You're damn right I'm sure. Everybody's got talent, I got talent. You think you can play big-money straight pool or poker for forty straight hours on nothing but talent? You think they call Minnesota Fats the best in the country just cause he got talent? Nah, Minnesota Fats's got more character in one finger than you got in your whole skinny body.
Eddie: I got drunk.
Gordon: He drank as much whiskey as you do.
Eddie: Maybe he knows how to drink.
Gordon: You bet he knows how. You think that's a talent too, huh, knowin' how to drink whiskey? You think Minnesota Fats was born knowin' how to drink?
Eddie: OK, OK, what do I do now? Lie down on the floor and, uh, bow from the ankles? What do I do, go home?
Gordon: That's your problem.
Eddie: So I stay. I stay until I hustle up enough to play Fats again. And maybe by that time, I'll develop myself some character.
Gordon: (chuckling) Maybe by that time you'll die of old age. (He saunters over to the bar where Eddie is seated) How much do you think you'll, uh, need?
Eddie: A thousand.
Gordon: Naw, three thousand at least. He'll start you off at five hundred a game, he'll beat the pants off ya. That's the way he plays when he comes up against a man who knows the way the game is. He'll beat you flat four or five times, maybe more, depending on how, uh, steady your nerves are. Then he might, just might be a little scared of ya, and that could change things, but I wouldn't count on it.
Eddie: How do you know, huh, when nobody knows that much?
Gordon: You see that big car parked out by the fireplug on your way in? Well, that's mine. I like that car. But I get a new one every year, because I make it my business to know what guys like you and Minnesota Fats are gonna do. I made enough off you the other night to pay for it twice over.

Astutely recognizing Eddie's determined will to beat Fats, the manipulative, Mephistophelesian, sports promoter gets "personal," pep-talks Eddie, and cynically repeats his earlier criticism of the player during the Ames match. The Satanic gambler calls him a self-pitying "born loser":

Gordon: Eddie, you're a born loser.
Eddie: What's that supposed to mean?
Gordon: First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked, really hooked. But you let him off.
Eddie: I told you, I got drunk.
Gordon: Sure you got drunk, the best excuse in the world for losin'. No trouble losin' when you got a good excuse. And winning - that can be heavy on your back too, like a monkey. Drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. That's one of the best indoor sports, feelin' sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all - especially the born loser.

As Eddie leaves, Gordon offers a corrupt bargain to acquire the front money to meet Fats again and become the winner he yearns to be: "to get the three thousand and play Minnesota Fats again." Gordon has "ten reasons, maybe fifteen" because by investing in Eddie as his contract pool player, "there's something in it for me" and he enjoys "action." The unbalanced, ungenerous split would be compromising for Eddie (25 percent of the take), with 75 percent going to Gordon. The pool hustler rejects the proposal, preferring to 'scuffle' around on his own:

Eddie: That's a pretty big slice. Who do you think you are, General Motors?
Gordon: How much you think you're worth these days? I'm puttin' up the money, I'm puttin' up the time. For that, I get seventy-five percent return on my money - if you win.
Eddie: Do you think I can lose?
Gordon: I never saw you do anything else.
Eddie: You saw me beat Minnesota Fats for eighteen thousand dollars.
Gordon: Look, you want to hustle pool, don't ya? This game isn't like football. Nobody pays you for yardage. When you hustle, you keep score real simple. At the end of the game, you count up your money. That's how you find out who's best. It's the only way.
Eddie: Why back me, then, huh? Why don't you go back yourself? Go find yourself a big fat poker game and get rich. You know all the angles.
Gordon: I'm already rich. But I like action. That's one thing I think you're good for - is action. Besides, like I say, you got talent.
Eddie: Yeah, you already told me that. You cut that slice down to bite size, maybe we could talk.
Gordon: No, we don't talk. I don't make bad bets. Seventy-five, twenty-five, that's it.
Eddie: Kiss off!
Gordon: Hey wait! What are you gonna do about the money?
Eddie: There are places. I'll scuffle around.
Gordon: The word's out on you, Eddie. You walk in the wrong kind of place, they'll eat ya alive.
Eddie: And when did you adopt me?
Gordon: I don't know when it was.

In the waterfront Arthur's Pool Hall, as Eddie picks up his winnings after obviously hustling ("I don't rattle kid, I'm gonna beat you flat," he defiantly brags) another would-be hustler (a "two-bit punk"), he is confronted ("Why you're a pool-shark, boy, a real pool-shark!") and dragged into the restroom where his two thumbs are painfully broken by four thugs, as his face is pressed against a glass window [they are later identified as Gordon's hired thugs].

At Sarah's apartment, she comforts him when he is crippled, nurses him to health and helps him to recover. Handicapped and dependent on her, Eddie's hands are manacled and encased in plaster casts - he is unable to hold a coffee cup, light his own cigarettes, or button his shirt. During their healing relationship, Sarah appears to strengthen, sobers up during the recovery period, and even returns to her writing.

During a picnic in the country, Eddie expresses his doubts and insecurities, his fear of winning, and his urge to fail and defeat himself [a foreshadowing of the Faustian bargain he ultimately makes]:

Eddie: Sarah, do you think I'm a loser?
Sarah: A loser?
Eddie: Yeah. I met this guy, Gordon, Bert Gordon. He said I was a born loser.
Sarah: Would he know?
Eddie: He knows a lot.
Sarah: Why did he tell you?
Eddie: I don't know, I'm not sure. He said there are people who, uh, who want to lose, who are always lookin' for an excuse to lose.
Sarah: What does he do, this Bert Gordon?
Eddie: He's a gambler.
Sarah: Is he a winner?
Eddie: He owns things.
Sarah: Is that what makes a winner?
Eddie: What else does?
Sarah: Does it bother you what he said?
Eddie: Yeah. Yeah, it bothers me a lot. Cause you see twice, Sarah, once at Ames with Minnesota Fats, and then again at Arthurs, you know, in that cheap, crummy pool room. Now why did I do it Sarah, why did I do it? I could've beat that guy, I could've beat him cold. He never would have known. But I just had to show him. Just had to show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it's great, when it's really great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don't care - brick-laying can be great if a guy knows. If he knows what he's doin' and why and if he can make it come off.

Fast Eddie elatedly describes the beautiful thrill of shooting pool to her, comparing it to a jockey riding a horse - for once glorifying the game devoid of the harsh, dehumanizing, 'win-or-lose' mentality of competition:

When I'm goin', when I'm really goin', I feel like a, like a jockey must feel when he's sittin' on his horse, he's got all that speed and that power underneath him, he's coming into the stretch, the pressure's on him - and he knows. He just feels, when to let it go and how much. 'Cause he's got everything workin' for him - timing, touch. It's a great feeling, boy - it's a real great feeling - when you're right and you know you're right. Like all of a sudden, I got oil in my arm. Pool cue's part of me. You know, it's a - pool cue, it's got nerves in it. It's a piece of wood; it's got nerves in it. You can feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look. You just know. You make shots that nobody's ever made before. And you play that game the way nobody's ever played it before.

After his monologue, Sarah confidently states her belief in him as a "winner" - and her love:

You're not a loser, Eddie. You're a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything. I love you, Eddie.

She falls in love with him and could redeem him from his losing battles, but being self-absorbed and emotionally crippled, he is unable to respond and commit:

Eddie: You know, someday Sarah, you're gonna settle down. You're gonna marry a college professor. You're gonna write a great book - maybe about me, huh? Fast Eddie Felson, Hustler.
Sarah: I love you.
Eddie: Do you need the words?
Sarah: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them, I'll never let you take them back.

With his thumbs healed, Eddie practices his pool game - he rates it as "twenty percent off, maybe more." Gordon naively asks Eddie about his "open-hand bridge" style, as if he was unaware of the thumb-breakers:

Eddie: A big creep broke my thumbs.
Gordon: A man named Turk Baker?
Eddie: You know everybody, don't ya?
Gordon: Everybody who can hurt me. Everybody who can help me pays.
Eddie: Maybe you ought to give me lessons.
Gordon: Sign up.
Eddie: Where do I sign?

Eddie admits his need for help, and literally sells his soul - he accepts Gordon's offer as his manager, on his terms, for a match in Louisville, Kentucky. He muses: "Maybe I'm not such a high-class piece of property right now. But that twenty-five percent slice of somethin' big is better than a hundred percent slice of nothin'." To celebrate, Eddie (dressed up in tie and jacket) wines and dines Sarah in a new, patterned dress - with pearls - in the exclusive Parisien Restaurant - "there's a first time for everything." Now that she "feel(s) pretty," she orders sherry - "very old, very dry."

After dinner when the bill is presented, he off-handedly mentions his departure to resume his hustling: "I'll be leavin' town for a little while." [The camera angle in the restaurant has changed, revealing an unattractive cupboard of crockery.] Insecure that her unstable, non-committal lover will never return, although he asserts "I'll be back," she marches out of the restaurant into a drenching downpour. She refuses a taxi ride and walks home in the driving rain, arriving a sodden, rain-soaked mess. When he explains his next day's trip to Louisville with a friend "to make some money," she realizes that her full-time 'hustler' may desert her because he doesn't need her anymore, like all the other men in her life, including her father. Hustling will only result in further deadening of his emotional side with her. She begins to believe he isn't even 'real' in her manufactured, made-up world:

Sarah: Leave now.
Eddie: Grow up.
Sarah: Why should I?
Eddie: Sarah, I'm going to Kentucky to play pool with a guy by the name of Findlay. Now I need the action and I need the money. I told ya I'd be back.
Sarah: If you were going to come back, you wouldn't have taken me out tonight, you wouldn't have bought this dress. You're hustling me, Eddie. You've never stopped hustling me.
Eddie: No, I never hustled you, even when I thought I was, and you know it.
Sarah: What do you want me to do, just sit here and wait, your faithful looking Sarah. Pull all the shades down and sit. When you feel like coming back, you'll come back and you'll love me, and then you'll go away again. Is that your idea of love?
Eddie: I got no idea of love. Neither of you, I mean, neither one of us would know what it was if we saw it comin' down the street.
Sarah: I'd know it, Eddie. I'd know it. For God's sakes, what are you trying to do to me? I love you.
Eddie: Well, what's your idea of love - chains?
Sarah: I made you up, didn't I, Eddie? You weren't real. I made you up, like everything else. There was no car crash, Eddie. When I was five, I had polio. I was never an actress. The 'rich old man' is my father. He walked out on us when I was seven. He sends me a check every month. That's how he buys his way out of my life. The men I've known - after they've left, I'd say they weren't real. I made them up. But you, Eddie, I wanted you to be real. I'm so scared. I'm scared.

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