Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Paul Newman - Cleveland, OH

It’s an old story. A young man with unlimited potential – with unmatched talent – confident, but cocky – trying to have it all at once – getting it all and losing it all – finally getting it all back at a terrible cost. Loss and redemption. It is the schooling you get from Life itself. It’s a comeuppance, and it’s even for the blessed.

Paul Newman, portraying pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in the 1961 film The Hustler, plays that character to perfection. The desperate confidence fills the screen – the need to be the best – to live up to his potential – drives him to sell his soul to the devil – personified here in Bert Gordon, portrayed magnificently by George C. Scott.

Newman’s performance is dynamic in every moment – his subtleties are poignant and his flare is cool. He displays a vulnerability that evokes empathy for the anti-hero. It’s a classic performance, setting the bar high in the early 1960s – just as American film was beginning to change dramatically. Amidst amazing performances by Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats) and Piper Laurie (Sarah Packard), Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson is one of the best moments in cinematic history.

Crisp black and white. Skinny ties, with the suit jackets still a little boxy. Jazz. Pool. Gambling, drinking, and sex. Violence, sorrow, and glory.

25 year later, Newman would resurrect Eddie Felson in The Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese. He won an Academy Award for best actor for that role – his first after eight nominations.

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