Jackie Gleason received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Minnesota Fats in The Hustler.
Gleason is actually only in two scenes as Fats one at the beginning of the film and the final scene of the film. His total screen time is short but like Montgomery Clift of this year it does not stop his performance from being great. Gleason first off shows his physical acting ability is amazing here. If one compares his performance as Ralph Kramden to this one as Fats, one can see quite the fascinating transition. In the Honeymooners he is distraught, and has very poor posture, as Minnesota Fats his posture is perfect. His movements are tremendous. Every step Fats takes is absolutely perfect, Gleason walks around without fault and this shows Fats absolutely perfect demeanor and how his presence instantly holds commands, just as Gleason instantly commands the screen when he comes in. His physical abilities here are essential to his performance, and essential to the film itself. His physical prescene shows Fats incredibly strong character which is a key point of the film.
His physical movements of Fats are brilliant because both times when you initially see him he is a towring prescene, completely being the undefeatable pool game. Fats' first perfect pool game he plays is astoundingly played by Gleason. Yes he is just playing a game of pool but the way he moves around the table is as Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) says is like a perfect dancer. The way Gleason moves and shoots the game could have been just a process but Gleason shows that is much more than that do to his awesome physicallity in this role. He commands the screen with both his prescene and the strong power in his voice, he shows that Fats is always aware of what he is doing, who refuses to be played by Felson. His initial quick shut down of Felson attempted Hustle is perfectly played by Gleason because of his strict command and prescene. Gleason creates Fats as a legendary pool player, having the script win games and being said as so great does not matter so much, because must Gleason creates Fats as Legendary for the script to be believed, which Gleason does perfectly.
Later as he and Eddie play in the first game, I love how Gleason carefully shows Fats lose his command slowly as he begins to lose more. But than in their last game (in their first section of games) Gleason is brilliant as he has Fats prepare himself for the final game. He once again builds himself of and takes absoulte command of the screen showing himself as a winner and Felson as the loser. After Felson loses the last game Gleason dissapears for a long while in the film. But Gleason's prescene as Fats is always remebered, because of his impression he leaves. Due to Gleason I had no problem remebering when Bert (George C. Scott) speaks of Fats's character. Also I had no problem understading Eddie's desire to play him again because I
myself wanted to see the legendary Fats again just as well.
The second part of Gleason's performace is amazingly even more powerful than his first half. Gleason again shows his prescene just as well and his decay as Felson plays and beats him again and again. Fats's physical and mental exhuastion is shown without fault by Gleason. But the greatest single part is when Eddie is threatened by Burt for the money Eddie has won against Fats. Gleason's sad face shows so much of Fats in just his single face in this scene. It shows how Fats really just loves the game, and hates the tactics of others, and really it also shows a history of knowledge. That Fats has probably seen this all before and that it is merely a fact of his life. It is astounding to me that Gleason shows this without saying anything, anything at all, the scene only focuses on him a little, but to me he pulls it off wonderfully despite this. Now you do not learn too much about Fats, especially if only taken by what is said out loud, but I felt I met him because of Gleason remarakable performance he takes so little and makes it into so much.