When Hollywood had the balls to tell somber, adult dramas with unsympathetic losers as lead characters, the result could be something as magnificent as . Time has been very kind to Robert Rossen’s 1961 classic, and the performances continue to resonate as unique creations unlike any other. Paul Newman’s “Fast Eddie” remains the most prominent (unfortunately because of his rotten, unnecessary return in ), but my money (as usual) is on George C. Scott as “business man” Bert Gordon; a cynical, heartless bastard who reduces all of life’s mysteries to an exchange of hard currency, and yet we love him for it.
Typically, Scott roars and bellows, while always remaining the most fascinating person in the room, but it’s his quietly devastating assessment of Eddie and his limp-afflicted girlfriend Sarah (Piper Laurie) that leaves the viewer breathless. After Sarah rips Bert a new one for his soulless materialism, he shoots back, not missing a beat, “Well, nobody has to sell.” Faced with the reality that yes, we are indeed all whores with a price, Sarah gives in to Bert’s crude advances in order to have an excuse to commit suicide. And so she does. And did I mention that there’s also some great pool? The matches between Eddie and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) are both tense and revealing of character, as we see clearly why someone like Fats usually wins, and someone like Eddie usually loses. Relentlessly downbeat, it also features a jazzy score and lush widescreen compositions. One of my personal favorites.