The Hustler

Released in 1961, to critical acclaim, The Hustler is a drama based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis. Filmed on location in NewYork City and directed by Robert Rossen, The Hustler stars Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott and Piper Laurie.

‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Newman), is a minor-league pool hustler, who travels the country with his equally immoral manager Charlie Burns ( Myron McCormick), but seeks to abandon his anonymity by challenging the legendary Minnesota Fats (Gleason). After boasting that he will win $10,000 from Fats, he is $1,000 ahead when he suggests raising the stakes and requests Preacher (Stefan Gierasch) to fetch him some bourbon. Preacher also notifies Fats’ backer, Bert Gordon (Scott), a cold, vicious gambler, who nonetheless quietly pays out as Felson keeps on winning.

However, having been $18,000 ahead at one stage, Felson conspires to lose all bar $200. Thereafter, Felson starts a relationship with Sarah Packard (Laurie), a vulnerable, crippled girl, whom he later discards with tragic consequences. Indeed, in the final scenes, he tells Gordon, ‘I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game.’

Felson returns to New York to face Minnesota Fats for a second time and wins easily. He tells Fats, ‘Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool’, and Fats replies, ‘So do you, Fast Eddie’. By now his manager, Gordon requests his 75% cut of his winnings and, when Felson refuses, begrudgingly agrees, but warns him never to set foot in a pool hall in the city again.

The late Robert of the Chicago-Sun Times wrote, ‘The Hustler is one of those films where scenes have such psychic weight that they grow in our memories.’ His sentiment was reflected by the fact that all four leading actors, Newman, Gleason, Scott and Laurie, received Academy Award nominations.

The Sting

Released on Christmas Day, 1973, The Sting is a classic caper film directed by Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw. It was, in fact, one of the most popular films of the Seventies and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, for which it beat ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘The Exorcist’.

The Sting involves a convoluted plot, each stage of which is introduced by a title card – ‘The Set-Up’, ‘The Wire’, ‘The Hook’ and so on – reminiscient of the Saturday Evening Post covers painted by Norman Rockwell. In September, 1936, two con men, or grifters, Johnny Hooker (Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) con a mark out of $11,000, unaware that the money belongs to heavyweight mobster Doyle Lonnegan. Luther is subsequently murdered and Hooker flees to Chicago.

In the Windy City, he seeks out Henry Gondorff (Newman) as suggested by Coleman and, aided and abetted by a band of confidence tricksters, including Kid Twist (Harold Gould), they resurrect a tried-and-tested, but obsolete, con known as ‘The Wire’. Posing as Kelly, a disgruntled employee of a bogus Chicago bookmaker Shaw (Newman), Hooker convinces Lonnegan that he has an ‘inside man’ at Chicago Western Union, who can delay telegraphing horse racing results to bookmakers long enough to allow bets to be placed after the race has been run.

After several ‘convincers’, Lonnegan places $500,000 to win on a horse called Lucky Dan at the fake betting shop that has been constructed expressly for the purposes of the con. Just before the ‘off’, Twist, posing as inside man Les Harmon, appears and is shocked to hear that Lonnegan has failed to follow his instruction to ‘place it on Lucky Dan’ or, in other words, to bet Lucky Dan to finish second. As Lonnegan tries, and fails, to recover his money, accomplice Hickey (Dana Elba), posing as FBI agent Polk, leads a raid on the betting shop. In the ensuing chaos, Hooker and Gondorff are apparently shot dead and shady policeman Synder (Charles Durning) leads Donnegan away to safety. However, neither man has really been shot and they rise to riotous laughter.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a 1988 black comedy co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam. Loosely autobiographical, the plot, such as it is, follows journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) as he drives a bright red Chevrolet convertible across the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas to cover the 1971 ‘Mint 400’ off-road motorcycle race for ‘Sports Illustrated’. Duke narrates the story in the first person.

Duke is accompanied by his psychopathic, apparently Samoan, attorney and friend Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro), who shares his liking for drink, drugs and foul language. The duo take the precaution of packing the trunk of the car with a plethora of psychoactive substances – including

adrenochrome, amyl nitrite, diethyl ether, mescaline and LSD, to name but a handful – which they consume with increasing frequency.

Indeed, the original journalistic assignment becomes an afterthought as the protagonists descend into mania during three-day, drug-fuelled binge in the City of Sin. During a series of psychedelic episodes, they demolish a hotel room, run up an eye-watering room service bill and wreck the car. Fleeing the scene, Duke encounters a highway patrol officer (Gary Busey), causing him to return to Las Vegas, where his binge continues with few apparent consequences.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ consensus was, ‘Visually creative, but also aimless, repetitive, and devoid of character development’. Xan Brooks of ‘The Independent’ wrote, ‘Incident, caricature and lurid Seventies fashions are substituted for plot and character, and the film soon descends into narcotic lunacy. The one stand-out is Johnny Depp, who brings Hunter S Thompson to bald-headed, pigeon-toed life.’

Two For The Money

Released in 2005, Two For The Money is a drama directed by Daniel John ‘D.J.’ Caruso and starring

Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino and Rene Russo. Former college football star Brandon Lang (McConaughey) suffers a career-ending knee injury and is reduced to handicapping football matches. However, his in-depth knowledge of the game stands him in good stead and his success at doing so soon attracts the attention of big-name sports betting consultant, or tout, Walter Abrams (Pacino).

Abrams recruits Lang, with no little success and, with the aid of his wife, Toni (Russo), a hair stylist, transforms him into ‘John Anthony’. Billed as ‘Your Million Dollar Man’, Anthony becomes the star of Abrams’ cable television show, ‘The Sports Advisors’, much to the annoyance of resident expert Jeff Sykes (Jeremy Piven). Lang, though, becomes complacent and his newfound lavish lifestyle does not last long. That lifestyle, of course, goes hand in hand with his ability to pick winners and, having lost his touch, he is physically assaulted by a disgruntled client, C.M. Novian (Armand Assante), and his heavyweight associate while riding his bicycle through Central Park.

The previously amiable, almost paternal, relationship between Abrams and Lang sours. Abrams, who has a weak heart and has a history of addiction, including alcohol and gaming, starts to come unhinged. Toni Abrams, who knows her husband only too well, tells Lang, ‘ You could win a hundred games in a row, but it wouldn’t be enough. He will ride you into the ground. You have to go.’ He takes her advice and is flying home to Las Vegas from New York when his final picks, made by tossing a coin in the bathroom, he claims, both win. He takes a job coaching junior league football.