Drink & Watch: The Hustler/Color of Money

If you can stay sober through back-to-back viewings of "Fast" Eddie Felson, then you my friend must have some serious will-power. I decided to kick back yesterday, order a pizza, enjoy the rainy Sunday at home, and watch Paul Newman in one of my all-time favorite roles. I had never done both films side-by-side before, and doing so completely changed the way I looked at Scorsese's sequel. Eddie recognizes his own youthful antics and cocky mentality in Tom Cruise, which is much clearer after watching a young Felson lose out to a far more-seasoned Minnesota Fats (played by a rotund Jackie Gleason). Being older myself this time around, I had more empathy for the youth vs. experience narrative (as my own youthful vigor begins to fade).

But what ultimately decides the contest between Newman and Gleason? Drinking—who can hold their liquor and still sink the eight ball on command. Minnesota Fats goes through an entire bottle of Scotch, while "Fast" Eddie sticks to JTS Brown Bourbon (a whole lot of it). But young Newman doesn't have the stamina to keep up. As Bukowski would say: he doesn't have the fuel. It costs him the first time around (I love it when George C Scott chimes in and says: "You think Minnesota Fats was born knowing how to drink?" Like it's a skill that one must be trained for!) I also love the old school drinking simplicity of 1961 that we get to see in "The Hustler". When getting "a drink" meant pouring plain ol' hard liquor into a glass. That's it. Finished. You'd "get a bottle" then hang out and talk. Piper Laurie's inflection is another lost art—back when people said "yayes" instead of "yes". But flash-forward thirty-five years and suddenly Eddie Felson is a Bourbon expert—talking to the bartender about the differences between Wild Turkey and Jack Daniels, while a young Tom Cruise cleans out a bewildered John Turturro.

I drank a lot of Bourbon yesterday. Four hours worth. But I was training. Just like Minnesota Fats.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll