Ten Best Pool Movies and Television Episodes
Pool, or billiards if you prefer, is a fascinating game. For pool aficionados, check out these top pool/billiards movies and TV episodes that are sure to entertain and get the competitive juices flowing. Rack 'em up!
The Hustler (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1961)
Hollywood pool doesn't get any better in this classic film directed by Robert Rossen. Jackie Gleason plays the veteran pool champion Minnesota Fats while Paul Newman counters as the cocky challenger Fast Eddie Felson. The gaming action is fast and heavy, with Gleason and Newman engaging in two high-stakes marathon pool sessions at New York City's Ames Billiards while George C. Scott's beady-eyed gambler Bert Gordon looks on from the gallery. The legendary Willie Mosconi taught Newman how to shoot pool, and performs a number of trick shots in the movie as well. "You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it's me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can't miss? 'Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it," a swaggering Newman tells Gleason as he runs the table.
Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman shooting for the break in The Hustler (1961)
The Color of Money (Buena Vista, 1986)
Paul Newman returns as Fast Eddie Felson from 1961's The Hustler. Now a liquor salesman, Newman backs young pool hustler Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) in his rise to the top. There's plenty of pool action in this Martin Scorsese flick, including one scene where the great Eddie Felson is deftly taken by a young black hustler named Amos (Forest Whitaker). The big prize awaits in Atlantic City, where both Cruise and a resurgent Eddie are entered in the Nine Ball Classic. Like Newman 25 years earlier in The Hustler, Tom Cruise learned how to shoot pool for his role as Vincent, actually performing many of his own trick shots. Real-life pool pros Michael Sigel, Steve Mizerak, Keith McCready, Jimmy Mataya, Howard Vickery and Ewa Mataya Lawrence were employed as technical advisors, bit actors and/or shot makers. Paul Newman won his only Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money. "Yes sir, boss. Rack 'em up for Mr. Fast Eddie!" Tom Cruise declares.
The Baltimore Bullet (AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1980)
James Coburn stars as Nick Casey a.k.a. "The Baltimore Bullet," an aging pool hustler who shows the ropes to up-and-coming billiards sensation Billie Joe Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner). The teacher and his pupil are gunning for ex-con The Deacon (Omar Sharif), a legendary gambler and pool hustler who only plays for a minimum of $5,000. Fetching Ronee Blakley appears as Carolina Red, with real-life pool wizards Willie Mosconi, Steve Mizerak, Lou Butera, Irving Crane, Richard Florence, Jimmy Mataya, Michael Sigel, et al., appearing in cameo roles. "I taught him everything he knows, but I didn't teach him everything I know," declares James Coburn of his young student.
Poolhall Junkies (Gold Circle Films, 2002)
Mars Callahan plays pool shark Johnny, who soon bristles under the strict management of his mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri). Johnny and Joe violently part company, with the former taking a job in construction. Forced to return to his pool hustling past in order to bail out his brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) from gambling losses, Johnny plays Joe's new pupil Brad (Rick Schroder) in a high-stakes match for both money and his life. Pool pro Robert LeBlanc performed many of the trick shots in the movie and Christopher Walken, appearing as Uncle Mike, actually pocketed a trick shot of his own on the very first take.
Poolhall Junkies poster from 2002
Stickmen (Universal Pictures, 2001)
Three New Zealander buddies, Jack (Robbie Magasiva), Wayne (Scott Wills) and Thomas (Paolo Rotondo), get in over their heads with some local gangsters. In order to settle things, the trio begin to play in underground pool tournaments. Kiwi humor, booze, sex and of course billiards dominate this movie, which also features Anne Nordhaus as the resident beauty. The film is reportedly based on scenarist Nick Ward and his real-life exploits with his own band of stickmen.
POOL TELEVISION EPISODES
Gunsmoke/"Cowtown Hustler" (CBS-TV, March 11, 1974)
Jack Albertson plays Moses Darby, an Old West pool hustler who is now using the alias "Joshua Pinch." Albertson gets to work early, hustling a trio of cowhands at a small-town saloon where he relieves them of $120. Angered by their gambling loss, the men attack Albertson outside where he is rescued by gunslinger Dave Rope (Jonathan Goldsmith Lippe). The pair then head to Dodge City, with Albertson later going head-to-head with imported Kansas City pool pro Willie Tomsen (John Davis Chandler). The highlight of this hour-long episode is the big match at a Dodge City pool dive, where Albertson and Chandler engage in a best two-out-of-three match with a lot of money riding on the outcome.
The Twilight Zone/"A Game of Pool" (CBS-TV, October 13, 1961)
Jack Klugman stars as Jesse Cardiff, a pool player extraordinaire who pines to be the number one stickman ever. In his way is the legendary Fats Brown (Jonathan Winters), who is unfortunately dead, thus preventing a match. But the ghost of Fats returns for an encore, with he and Jesse engaging in a bizarre, high-stakes game of pool. Jesse ultimately wins the match but doesn't reckon on the consequences, however, for he is now doomed to defend his title forever in an endless succession of ghostly pool halls. "A Game of Pool" was later remade for The New Twilight Zone and aired on December 31,1989. Esai Morales plays Jesse Cardiff, with Maury Chaykin as Fats Brown.
Jonathan Winters, left, and Jack Klugman in The Twilight Zone's "A Game of Pool" (1961)
Alcoa Theatre/"Goodbye Johnny" (NBC-TV, February 9, 1959)
Cliff Robertson plays a young pool hustler named Johnny, with Douglas Fowley as Pop and Harold J. Stone as Tony Busso. Robertson's character is highly reminiscent of Fast Eddie Felson, Walter S. Tevis' lead character in his 1957 short story "The Hustler," first published in the January 1957 issue of Playboy magazine. Tevis later expanded his story into a novel, with The Hustler published by Harper & Row in 1959. By virtue of his performance in "Goodbye Johnny," Cliff Robertson was considered for the starring role of Eddie Felson in the 1961 movie version of The Hustler, a part that eventually went to Paul Newman.
The Dick Van Dyke Show/"Hustling the Hustler" (CBS-TV, October 24, 1962)
Phil Leeds guest stars as Blackie Sorrell, Buddy's (Morey Amsterdam) black sheep brother. Although Blackie pleads that he is now a changed man, making an honest living selling real estate, Buddy wants nothing to do with him. An unsuspecting Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) invites Blackie over for dinner, with the two later playing pool on Rob's table in the basement. Pool shark Blackie then sets up Rob a.k.a. "Illinois Slim" for the hustle, running the table on him just before an angry Buddy arrives. Blackie, however, tears up Rob's $600 check, proving to his brother that he has indeed changed for the better.
The Brady Bunch/"The Hustler" (ABC-TV, March 1, 1974)
Harry Mathews (Jim Backus), Mike Brady's (Robert Reed) boss, surprises him with a pool table for a job well done. Bobby Brady (Mike Lookinland) soon becomes a pool wizard, taking on all challengers. His first pigeons are brothers Greg (Barry Williams) and Peter (Christopher Knight), whom he runs the table on and collects his bet, that being the losers must shine his shoes for a month. Bobby continues his hustling ways, later taking on Mr. Mathews himself and creating a sticky situation for Mike.
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.