Okay, first things first: the pool table action in The Hustler (1961, not rated, 134 minutes) is rather tame. Most of the shots are obscurely impossible, but successful.
Paul Newman as “Fast Eddie” Felson, the “hustler” who finally wins the big game for big stakes, is, of course, iconic. His character is repetitive and becomes predictable: “I can beat him” isn’t a line of script, it’s a refrain.
Jackie Gleason’s role has name recognition (as “Minnesota Fats”) but it is two-dimensional and secondary. George C. Scott (as Bert Gordon) is a stereotype with a bankroll. Everybody smokes too much. Ugh!
You should try The Hustler again to take another look at Piper Laurie (as Sarah Packard). She is the largely unheralded heavy hitter in this film. She is the foil for Newman’s thrashing self- doubt. She is the paragon of sensitivity and desperately loving kindness that the men in this tragedy barely hope to become. She speaks truth to gutless macho men. She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress.
Newman and Gleason and Scott are the action in The Hustler.
Piper Laurie is the heart and soul.