In the youtube video/podcast I talk with my dad about this book and movie! This blog post is just the notes I used while talking to him.
**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK AND MOVIE!**
The Hustler by Walter Tevis (1959)
The Hustler directed Robert Rossen by (1961)
This is about Fast Eddie Felson who is a pool hustler but wants to make the big time by beating the best player in the country-Minnesota Fats. They play for over 48 hours, with Fats coming out on top. After this, Eddie meets a woman named Sarah as well as a man named Bert who comes his manager. Both of these relationships, Eddie learns what it really takes to be the best. As Bert says, it isn’t about talent, it’s about character.
Thoughts on the Book
This book kept my interest and even thought I don’t know anything about pool or gambling, the pool scenes had me engrossed. Eddie and Sarah’s relationship was interesting and at times had me disliking Eddie, even though overall you find yourself rooting for him. I enjoyed this book and am sure I will be reading more of Tevis, especially since a number of his books have been adapted into movies! This was his first novel and it was made into a movie so soon afterwards which is the writers dream (at least in most cases).
Tevis was a gambler and alcoholic so both tend to play a part in his work.
This is a movie I have seen a number of times and love, so in this episode I may be a bit biased towards the movie as I compare the two.
This movie was nominated for so many Oscars, the four main cast were each nominated but none won. It was also nominated for best picture, best director and best writing but lost those as well. The only Oscars it won for was cinematography and art direction.
Paul Newman is amazing in every movie he is in, so I am hesitant to say this is Newman at his best because he is incredible in basically every movie he is in! He is perfect as Fast Eddie, and he reprises this role in the sequel which came a couple decades later! Everyone does their own pool playing in this movie (for the most part, there is a shot that was done by a pro). Newman replaces his dining room table with a pool ball table when he landed the role so he could practice around the clock.
He was nominated but lost, which I think after the fact, everyone thought he was robbed. He later won when he reprised his role in The Color of Money. I’m sure he is amazing in the sequel, but it also seems like the Academy’s way of making it up to him for having lost in The Hustler.
Tony Curtis was first offered the role. I think he would have been good, but not on Newman’s level. I’m a big Newman fan though so I am probably biased.
Piper Laurie is excellent as Sarah. The role was offered to Kim Novak but she didn’t end up in the role, obviously. Novak is a great actress, but she is too “sexy” for the role of Sarah. Laurie spent time in Greyhound bus stations to prepare for her role.
George C. Scott is another great actor, I talked about him in my A Christmas Carol book vs movie because he is in my favorite adaptation of that. He is great as Bert in this movie. He was nominated for an Oscar; however, Scott didn’t believe in competing against other actors unless you played the exact same role. He lost his Oscar for this and despite disagreeing with the system, was still disappointed. When he later won an Oscar for his role in Patton, he refused to accept it. Gotta admire a guy who sticks to his principles!
Jackie Gleason is perfect as Fats, and he is a great pool player in real life as well. He was nominated for an Oscar, which seems odd. He isn’t even in much and has no fantastic scenes really.
Throughout the movie I couldn’t decide if Eddie is more or less likeable than he was in the book. Ultimately, he has a stronger arc in the movie and I found myself disliking him for most of the movie, but then at the end, I liked him more than I had throughout the book.
Eddie also opens up to Sarah more in the movie than he had in the book. The scene when he tells her about Bert calling him a born loser is such a fantastic scene and it isn’t in the book.
This story is about addiction in many ways. Sarah is an alcoholic, and Eddie is addicted to the game and to proving he is the best. In the movie, when Sarah tells him not to beg Bert and how Bert will break his heart-Eddie is very harsh to her. His addiction is blinding him from the truth which Sarah is able to see. This scene isn’t in the book, because Sarah doesn’t go with him to Kentucky.
Sarah is a bigger role in the movie, and just as Eddie opens up more to her in the movie, she also opens up to him and is vulnerable with him and loves him. This is why she comes to Kentucky with him, whereas in the book she stayed home. As in the movie, he takes her out to dinner to ease the blow of telling her he is leaving. But in the movie, she tells him about the truth of her situation and how much she wants him.
While in Kentucky she meets Bert, and just as he is with Eddie, he is harsh and blunt with her. He wants Eddie to win, not for Eddie’s sake, but for the money. He doesn’t want Sarah around, effecting Eddie and he makes it known.
Sarah ends up committing suicide, and this is the biggest change from book to movie. In the book, Eddie is wishy washy with Sarah, and their relationship is ambiguous in the end.
I think the death of Sarah was a great call on the movies part. Her death, along with having his thumbs broken earlier, are what cause the arc of his character.
In the movie Eddie reads something Sarah wrote, about how they have a contract of depravity. In the movie he is very upset that this is how she sees them-even though it’s the truth. In the book she says this to him, rather than him finding her having written it, and it bothers him but at the same time he doesn’t seem to care all too much. In the movie he is harsher with her, yet at the same time seems to care more. Her suicide in the movie is what makes him realize what Bert is.
Bert is very smart and observant. He is able to spot a person’s weakness and manipulate them to get what he wants. He does this with Eddie, calling him a born loser, and in the movie, he does this with Sarah. He also causes Eddie to see Sarah in her weakness, which he had seen before, but Bert gets him embarrassed by Sarah in a way he hadn’t been.
In the movie, Bert and Sarah end up having sex before she commits suicide. He has ruined her self-confidence and having sex with Bert is her way of proving to herself who degraded she is.
In the ending of the book, Eddie beats Fats, but, as in the movie, Bert demands his share of the money and that he be Eddie’s manager. This relationship is also an ambiguous end where Bert tells him if he doesn’t pay, he can’t show his face in any big city pool hall. Bert leaves Eddie to think things over, and that’s the end of the book. The book has a good ending, however the movie ending packs more of a punch. He stands up to Bert because he has a different perspective now due to Sarah’s death. As he says, “I can’t lose” and now he really can’t not even against Bert.
In the book, when playing billiards in Kentucky he has a moment where things click for him and he starts winning and brings this when he plays Fats.
Book or movie
As said, I could be biased but I think the movie wins here. It is more dramatic, but I think it makes for a more powerful story. I also love the cast, especially Paul Newman and George C. Scott. A lot of the dialogue is taken from the book, so I want to give credit where credit is due.