Special thanks to my pal and regular commenter Kevin a.k.a Jack Deth for this in-depth review!
First, I’d like to thank Ruth for the opportunity to offer a guest review on her wonderfully enjoyable, informative site.It’s not often that one is given the chance to rave about, offer insights or generally trash a film that piques my ire. Fear not. This review is positive in the extreme and a favorite film of mine.
Directed by Robert Rossen in 1961. The film tells the tale of ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson. Played flawlessly by a then, up and coming Paul Newman. Portraying the prototype of The Man With No Name made famous by Clint Eastwood under the direction of Sergio Leone in iconic ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ a decade later. Newman exudes supreme, cocky confidence and not much more.
What do we know about ‘Fast Eddie’?
He’s a pool hustler. Period. Nothing more.
The pool hall absolutely reeks of atmosphere as Eddie and Charlie await the arrival of ‘Minnesota Fats’. The man of legend. Jackie Gleason at his absolute best! Introductions are made and a marathon game begins with lush B&W overlays as the camera pans through the smoke hazed, shadowy room to a coffee house, Be Bop soundtrack laid down by Kenyon Hopkins. That only adds to the cat and mouse game played by two masters. As shots are made. Balls clack and travel into called pockets. Only to be racked and travel again.
Which sets the stage for the final battle.
One that is more than worthy of the wait. As Eddie comes looking not for blood, but for money. Which to Bert is the same thing. Shots are made. Eyes shift and for once, Eddie is the Captain of his own fate.It’s a wonderful thing to watch. As Fats finally concedes. And Eddie wins. A Pyrrhic victory? Almost certainly! As Bert scarily shouts “You owe me MONEY!” And Eddie uses his newly applied leverage to verbally beat Bert down on percentages and cuts of the future takes. Before turning his back on Bert amidst threats to never play in a big time poll hall again.
Now. What makes this film good?
Many, many things. The B&W cinematography is near flawless. Especially at Ames. The pool hall where Fats plies his trade. Where shadows merge amongst the silent, attentively watching, down and out crowd to as one fluidly intertwined mass. The clarinet, saxophone, bongo drum and bass soundtrack may seem out of place at first, but quickly becomes part of the grim, desperate, close to grimy atmosphere.
What makes this film great?
Kudos to Robert Rossen for his screenplay and superb direction. Black & White works like a hand inside a glove for this film. Much more so than Martin Scorsese’s choice of color for his later, The Color Of Money, which has about one tenth the atmosphere. More than worthy of its two Oscar wins for Best Cinematography and Art/Set Direction. Though Newman, Laurie, Gleason and Scott were robbed of their Lead and Supporting Actor Oscars.
Have you seen this film? We welcome your thoughts in the comments.