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Robert Rossen
Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton
Sidney Carroll, Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Walter Tevis

They Called Him "Fast Eddie".

Pool shark "Fast" Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has a chip on his shoulder, which doesn't serve him well in his competition against legendary cue-master Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). After that match, Felson catches the eye of Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a professional gambler who helps him prepare for the big time, and falls for Sarah (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic wannabe writer. When it turns out that he might have to sacrifice everything to get to the top, he's faced with a tough decision.

Box Office:
$2 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Mandarin Chinese
Cantonese Chinese
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 5/17/2011

• Audio Commentary with Actors Paul Newman and Stefan Gierasch, Carol Rossen (Daughter of Director Robert Rossen), Editor Dede Allen, Assistant Director Ulu Grosbard, Time Magazine Critic Richard Schickel, and Film Historian Jeff Young
• Trick Shot Analysis
• “The Hustler: The Inside Story” Documentary
• “Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness” Featurette
• “Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler” Featurette
• “Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle” Featurette
• “Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand” Featurette
• “How to Make the Shot” Featurette
• “Paul Newman at Fox” Featurette
• “Jackie Gleason: The Big Man” Featurette
• “The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis” Featurette
• Trailer

• Collectible Book Packaging


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The Hustler [Blu-Ray Book] (1961)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 31, 2011)

Because I tend to do things backwards, I saw 1986’s The Color of Money well before I watched 1961’s The Hustler. The former is the sequel to the latter, which meant I checked them out in the reverse order.

Because I am ass-backwards, for quite some time I strongly preferred Money to The Hustler. I thought the 1986 piece offered a terrific experience, what with its go-go pool scenes and Eighties high drama. The original flick, on the other hand, seemed boring and plodding, and it lacked the high-flying spirit of the sequel.

Some will claim I’m still an idiot, but this discussions proves that I was even more of a moron 25 years ago. I rewatched Money a while back and felt quite disappointed by it. Essentially, Martin Scorsese created a two-hour beer commercial that lacked any real connection to the original film. The Eighties Eddie Felson bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Sixties one, other than the fact both looked a lot like Paul Newman. Anti-heroes weren’t allowed in mid-Eighties Reagan-era America, so everything was sunny and shallow.

I was wrong about The Hustler. I can definitely state that it offers a vastly superior experience. Though not without some of its own dated elements, The Hustler generally provides a rich and rewarding drama.

As noted, Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, an exceedingly cocky pool shark. After a quick scene in which he establishes his credentials with some suckers, Eddie and his financial partner Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick) head to Ames Pool Hall in New York to challenge the best of the best, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Although he crushes Fats for a while, Eddie doesn’t know when to quit, and he eventually leaves Ames as a beaten man.

This sends him into a downward spiral of aimlessness, but he eventually meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a boozehound who haunts the local bus station as she waits for the bars to open. These two emotionally flawed people latch onto each other and start their very own co-dependent relationship well before the term became popular. However, it does seem to benefit them after a fashion, especially when Felson takes an involuntary leave of absence from hustling after some toughs bust his thumbs.

However, his walk down the straight-and-narrow doesn’t last, as he soon gets tempted back into the pool racket. Con man Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) offers Eddie a deal to be his backer, and though Felson doesn’t like the 75/25 split that strongly favors Gordon, he knows he must take it to get back into the swing of things. Sarah fears this means the end of her relationship with Eddie, so he brings her with them down to New Orleans, where they plan to scam a wealthy man named Findley (Murray Hamilton). For reasons I’ll leave vague, things don’t go so well in the Big Easy. In the end, Eddie returns to Ames to challenge Fats once again, but don’t expect a rollicking slam-bang happy ending.

The Hustler isn’t that kind of film, and thank God it doesn’t take the easy path. The Color of Money tried to remake Hustler as a happy flick. That defeats the whole purpose, really. It’s like having Ilsa miss the plane, or keeping Rhett with Scarlett - some movies work best when they don’t give the audience the easy out, and The Hustler falls into that category.

Newman wouldn’t win an Oscar until Money, but he deserved one for his supple and powerful performance as Felson. After I watched the film, I cued up the start again so I could tape the audio commentary. (I put these on cassettes and listen to them in the car.) I briefly watched a little of the opening and felt stunned to see that Felson comes across as a totally different person at each end of the film.

Newman makes the transition seamlessly, and it never feels like he actively pushes the character toward something else. Instead, the progression moves effortlessly and naturally. From the cocky and smug pool shark of the opening scenes to the bitter and angry “winner” of the ending, Newman covers all the bases and does so remarkably well.

He also receives support from a roster of solid actors. Scott brings the right level of smarmy arrogance to Bert. A character totally devoid of merit, Scott nonetheless avoids creating a cartoon villain, and Scott brings strength and depth to the role. As the self-loathing Sarah, Laurie skips the showiness many actresses would bring to the part. She makes Sarah quietly jaded and lacks the overt bitterness one might expect.

On the surface, The Hustler looks like a movie about pool. No, that’s The Color of Money. The Hustler really concerns a tragic love story, and the relationship between Eddie and Sarah remains at the heart of the film. When I first saw - and disliked - The Hustler all those years ago, the love story caused much of my dissatisfaction. I wanted more pool, man!

Now I see what a crucial component the Eddie/Sarah relationship offers. The film deals with Felson’s development in both positive and negative ways, and his interaction with Sarah prompts much of that. A movie with more pool and less romantic drama might have been more fun, but it would have lacked this flick’s effectiveness.

I felt pleased that director Robert Rossen avoided the easy way out during The Hustler. Not only did he skip the peppy and happy ending, but he also told the tale in a way I’m not sure a studio would allow these days. For example, the first 36 or so minutes of The Hustler provide exposition that takes place in pool halls! The initial battle between Felson and Fats goes on much longer than I’d expect, and I seriously doubt many directors would now be willing or able to devote so much time to that endeavor. It’s crucial, however, and not a moment of it seems wasted.

Rossen also used the widescreen frame to terrific advantage. Fox should have provided a comparison between the widescreen and pan and scan transfers, as The Hustler offers one of the all-time great comparisons of why original aspect ratio should be king. Rossen totally packed the frame with information; the composition seemed sublime. Perhaps part of my original dislike for The Hustler stemmed from the fact I saw in on videotape in the pan and scan transfer; I imagine the movie would make much less sense, since so many characters and elements would disappear!

Whatever the case may be, obviously I changed my mind about The Hustler. The film showed some dated elements, but the rich storytelling and superb acting helped make it a terrific experience. Feh on the crummy sequel - The Hustler is the real deal.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B- / Bonus A

The Hustler appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. At almost all times, the movie looked great.

Sharpness seemed strong. A few instances of minor softness occurred, but those remained infrequent and insubstantial; the vast majority of the flick appeared crisp and concise. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented slight concerns in a couple of shots, and edge haloes stayed absent. Print flaws were a non-factor, as virtually none showed up during the film.

Black levels came across well. They appeared nicely deep and rich throughout the movie, and contrast was lovely. The disc provided a very satisfying black and white tone that showed no faltering. Shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque, with no issues related to excessive darkness. This was a gorgeous presentation worthy of an “A-“.

In addition to the movie’s original monaural audio, the Blu-ray provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. The Hustler seems like an odd movie to get the multichannel treatment, and the additional channels of information add little to the experience. Some scenes offered general atmosphere – bus stations, pool halls, streets – but these weren’t particularly memorable.

A few billiards scenes tossed in some minor clank and clunk in the rear speakers, and we even got some split-surround information at times. A thunderstorm became probably the showiest sequence in the movie. However, those didn’t make the movie more engrossing or interesting, and they showed up infrequently. Music attempted stereo imaging but mostly felt like broad mono; I couldn’t identify much in terms of real localization from the score. This was a modest attempt at a multichannel soundscape.

Audio quality held up fine after 50 years. Speech was reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed clear and acceptably bright, while effects were clean and accurate. The track lacked much depth, but it still remained adequate for the period. This was a perfectly acceptable track given its age.

How did the picture and audio of the Blu-ray compare to those of the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD? The new 5.1 remix added some changes, but not for the better. As noted above, the DTS-HD track was perfectly fine, but I don’t think it created an upgrade; when I watch the movie in the future, I’ll stick with the original monaural.

While the 2007 DVD looked very good, the Blu-ray improved on it. It seemed a bit deeper and more vibrant in terms of contrast, and it improved sharpness, as the Blu-ray was definitely better defined. The Blu-ray also lost the minor edge haloes and print defects of its predecessor. All of these factors made the Blu-ray a nice visual upgrade over the last DVD.

In terms of extras, the Blu-ray repeats most of the elements from the old CE and adds some new ones. I’ll mark exclusives with special blue print.

We start with an audio commentary that features a variety of participants. We hear from actors Paul Newman and Stefan Gierasch, Carol Rossen (daughter of director Robert Rossen), editor Dede Allen, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel, and film historian Jeff Young. Hosted by Stuart Galbraith, this edited program uses an interview format that makes it unusual. Galbraith asks the questions, which we hear; many commentaries feature interviewers, but few become audible during the track.

I know some folks don’t like this kind of commentary, but I enjoy them, and the piece for The Hustler works very well. One warning, however: the track often digresses onto topics not directly about the film. In particular, we learn a lot about the career of director Rossen and his involvement in the “red scare” of the era. Otherwise, we learn some good notes about the movie and other elements, as the commentary offers an entertaining and well-developed piece.

The disc also includes Trick Shot Analysis. This shows pool expert Mike Massey as he explains the shots. What this gives us is five different clips that demonstrate how some of the movie’s trick shots were accomplished. The segments last a total of 13 minutes and 51 seconds of footage. Unfortunately, this piece seems more “show” than “tell”. Massey doesn’t really let us know how to make the shots ourselves; we watch him do it but never quite learn the secret. That makes the piece less than useful.

After this we find The Hustler: The Inside Story. It lasts 24 minutes, 32 seconds as it combines scenes from the film, archival materials and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from Carol Rossen, Schickel, Grosbard, Massey, actor Jerry Orbach, pocket billiards historian Charles J. Ursitti, and Willie’s Game author Stanley Cohen.

“Inside Story” offers a reasonably compelling discussion of the film. It starts with a quick bio of director Rossen and then moves through casting, the history of pool, a look at Willie Mosconi, a chat about hustling, and some material about Mosconi and Minnesota Fats. It provides a look at the movie’s premiere in Washington, DC. The show ends somewhat abruptly, and it spends surprisingly little time on the movie itself; don’t expect a full examination of the production. However, the commentary covers most of those issues, and not much repeats between the two. Instead, “Inside Story” gives us an engaging look at some other elements related to the film, and it does so well.

After this we get a featurette called Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness. This 11-minute, 49-second piece mixes movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We hear from Newman, Allen, USC School of Cinema and Television professor Dr. Drew Casper, and actors Piper Laurie and Michael Constantine. “Lane” looks at Newman’s casting, performance, research and approach to the role as well as some thoughts about the Felson character.

The focus on Newman and Felson works well. We get a mix of good details related to both areas, though the actor specifics fill most of the piece. I could live without all the film clips, but I still find a lot to like in this interesting program.

Next comes the 28-minute, four-second Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler. It features Allen, Constantine, Laurie, Casper and Newman. They chat about the original novel and its adaptation, Robert Rossen’s choice to shoot in black and white and his approach to the material, locations, the atmosphere on the set, thoughts about various cast and crew, performance notes, some technical issues, editing, and reactions to the flick.

While “Milestones” doesn’t present a particularly concise examination of the film, it includes plenty of interesting notes. Laurie offers some great insights related to her acting, and other reflections on the cast and crew become quite useful. The program adds more to our understanding of the flick.

Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle runs nine minutes, 38 seconds and includes remarks from Hustler Days author RA Dyer and IPT pro player Max Eberle. We get a very brief history of pool before we learn the tricks of the hustling trade as well as a little about some famous hustlers. “Sharks” offers a neat little recap of the facts behind the film.

For the next program, Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand lasts 43 minutes, 44 seconds. Part of A&E’s Biography series, it involves Newman, childhood friend James Stotter, biographer Elena Oumano, director Robert Wise, race car driver/instructor Bob Bondurant, actors Robert Redford, Tom Bosley, Katharine Ross, Eva Marie Saint, Joanne Woodward, Angela Lansbury, Susan Sarandon and Susan Blakely.

As one might expect from the Biography series, “Hand” presents a general overview of Newman’s life and career. Happily, it avoids a gossipy tone. Although it touches on some personal problems in Newman’s life, it sticks with a meat and potatoes approach. The show offers a nice mix of short movie clips and cool archival elements like an early TV appearance and a screentest with James Dean. “Hand” offers a good little biography.

We find a shorter repeat of “Trick Shot Analysis” with How to Make the Shot. This just reiterates the same material, so it becomes rather redundant.

In addition to two trailers for The Hustler, we get three Blu-ray exclusives. Paul Newman at Fox goes for 27 minutes, 11 seconds and provides notes from biographer Eric Lax, USC Hugh M. Hefner Chair for the Study of American Film Rick Jewell, film historian Tom Schatz, film critic Gene Shalit, actor/script analyst Scott Klavan and UCLA film history professor Jonathan Kuntz. We get some notes about how Newman got into movies and learn a bit about his life and the films he made at Fox. This doesn’t become a broad biography, of course, but it delivers an interesting take on parts of Newman’s career.

Jackie Gleason: The Big Man runs 12 minutes, four seconds and features Jewell, Schatz, literary editor/author Patrick LoBrutto, writer/actor/director Rick Podell, and writer/comedian Michael Preminger. The program offers a quick overview of Gleason’s life and career. It’s too short to offer much substance, but it’s an enjoyable appetizer.

Finally, Walter Tevis: The Real Hustler lasts 18 minutes, 55 seconds and delivers remarks from LoBrutto, novelist Walter Tevis (circa 1984), son Will Tevis, daughter Julie Tevis McGory, wife Eleanora Tevis, and writer Ross Klavan. This acts as another life/career overview that delivers some basics about the author. The participation of so many family members helps, so we get a nice take on Tevis here.

For this release, the disc comes in collectible book packaging. It includes a plot synopsis, cast/crew biographies, trivia and photos. The bios are especially good, and the book completes the set in a fine way.

Despite my much-earlier dislike for The Hustler, I now find it to offer a pretty terrific piece of work. Buoyed by some daring storytelling and excellent acting, the film holds up well after four decades. The Blu-ray offers excellent picture quality, good audio and a terrific set of supplements. The Blu-ray becomes the definitive home video release of this classic movie.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE HUSTLER

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main