While The Hustler is widely considered a top all-time film by Hollywood standards, it isn’t one that comes up often when discussing the greatest sports betting movies of all time, and that’s mostly due to the game involved – pool (billiards).
Unless a major tournament is going on, the books that we feature in our list of sports betting site reviews rarely offer odds on pool or billiards, yet the game is one of the most popular gambling competitions over the past 100 years.
The Hustler is the story of “Fast” Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman. At the time of filming, Newman was 35 years old, but his dashing good looks made him appear to be in his mid-20’s.
Eddie is a hustler in the game of pool. He suckers opponents in by appearing to be a mediocre player and getting them to bet against him in straight-up games where the winner takes all.
Part of Fast Eddie’s hustle is his stake partner, Bert Gordon (played by George C. Scott). Gordon fronts the money for their operation and keeps most of the money, and is also crucial in setting up the matches.
Felson’s luck runs out when he is finally able to challenge legendary billiards master, Minnesota Fats portrayed by the immortal Jackie Gleason. After an over 24-hour series of pool games between the two of them, Felson is the ultimate loser, abandoning Bert and beginning a self-destructive journey.
Along the way, Eddie meets a troubled young woman named Sarah (Piper Laurie), and an unhealthy relationship develops. Things get dark once Bert and gambling return to Eddie’s life, as he errantly exposes himself as a hustler and digs himself deeper into the underbelly of illegal pool betting.
The film was a major draw upon release and made the game of pool popular across the entire United States. High-end billards halls began to spring up around the country and young males wanted to knock ’em down in style just like Fast Eddie.
In the ensuing years, the popularity resulted in pool tournaments being broadcast on television with some of the game’s better players earning significant fame and cash winnings.
While it hasn’t risen to the heights that NFL betting or College Football gambling has, much of the game’s legacy can be attributed to The Hustler.
The dark theme of the story was enhanced by its black-and-white photography, earning the film Academy Award wins for best art direction and cinematography.
The Hustler also received Oscar nominations for best film, best motion picture, best director (Robert Rossum), best actor (Newman), best actress (Laurie), best supporting actor (Scott and Gleason), and best screenplay.
It is rare for a film to earn that many Oscar nominations and only receive wins in technical categories, but anyone familiar with betting on the Academy Awards knows that their voters can often deliver results that are much more difficult to predict than other ceremonies.
The Hustler even spawned a sequel in 1984, The Color of Money, that featured a return performance by Paul Newman as Fast Eddie, co-starred Tom Cruise, and was directed by Martin Scorcese. The highly regarded sequel will be reviewed in a future article and features more intricate elements of pool hustling.