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Sunday July 21st 2019

The Hustler | 1961

With a clutch of nominated performances, Oscar-winning monochrome photography, full-on widescreen and authentic locations, The Hustler was pretty groundbreaking.

Even the pre-credits sequence, which sets up the whole pool scam was an unusual feature. It’s also credited with the first use of the word ‘bastard’ in a Hollywood movie.

The film is set and, unusually for the time, filmed around New York but sad to say, there’s very little left of the actual filming sites.

The prologue’s ‘Homestead Bar & Grill’, “en route to Pittsburgh”, where ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and Charlie (Myron McCormick) con the locals with a seemingly unrepeatable trick shot, stood on Wells Avenue west of Warburton Avenue toward Woodworth Avenue in Yonkers, on the Hudson River a few miles north of Manhattan.

That stretch of road is now a pedestrian alleyway. The block that contained the bar-pool hall has been replaced by a glumly featureless factory, but you can still see the unmistakable building which now houses the Kawasaki Railcar company in the background.

The epic pool game between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) was filmed in the old Ames Billiard Academy, a second-floor loft in the Claridge Hotel on West 44th Street, at Seventh Avenue, in Times Square, which was deliberately scruffed down to look more down-at-heel than it actually was.

The hotel, which is where Joe Buck (Jon Voight) stayed on his arrival in New York in Midnight Cowboy, was demolished in 1972.

Gone too is the other pool hall featured, McGirr's Billiard Academy, which occupied the basement of 709 Eighth Avenue at West 45th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

The seriously dodgy-looking ‘Arthur’s Pool Hall’, where Eddie discovers pool sharks are not welcome and gets his thumbs broken, was on West 48th Street at Pier 88, another area that’s since been completely redeveloped.

Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), in Manhattan’s sleek deco Greyhound Bus Terminal alongside the old Penn Station. The ‘cafĂ©’ was built specifically for the film and was so convincing that hungry travellers would sometimes wander onto the set and wait to be served.

The terminal was demolished along with the rail station in 1963.

Sarah’s neighbourhood is Hell’s Kitchen, on West 56th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. The liquor store where Eddie buys a bottle of Scotch as he heads back to her place stood on the northeast corner of 56th Street and 8th Avenue. The pair walk past what was the Parisien restaurant, 304 West 56th Street, which is where Eddie later breaks the news to her that he’s off to Kentucky for a while.

The premises now houses Bricco, an Italian restaurant, but you can still recognise the twin brick arches of its frontage.

Sarah’s apartment and the little grocery store opposite were a little further west but, again, redevelopment has rendered that stretch of 56th Street unrecognisable.

Manipulative chancer Bert Gordon (George C Scott) persuades Eddie to take part in the pool competition in Louisville, Kentucky, and here’s one location which remains. The hotel in which they stay and which hosts the tournament in its Billiard Room, is the Seelbach Hotel, now the Seelbach Hilton Louisville, 500 South 4th Street at West Muhammad Ali Boulevard, Downtown Louisville.

The Seelbach has plenty of history of its own. Apart from being patronised by Al Capone, writer F Scott Fitzgerald used to drink in the hotel’s Rathskeller and he used the Seelbach as the site of Tom and Daisy’s wedding in The Great Gatsby (though it’s not seen in any of the three screen versions).

A couple more bits of trivia for completeness: The ‘Louisville’ mansion of creepy Findley (Murray Hamilton) was a three-story townhouse on East 82nd Street on the East Side in Manhattan and there was also filming at Union Station in Los Angeles, though it’s difficult to see where this could be.