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20th Century Fox presents
The Hustler (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (1961)

"You're too hungry."
- Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie)

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: July 20, 2007

Stars: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott
Other Stars: Myron McCormick
Director: Robert Rossen

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:15m:00s
Release Date: June 12, 2007
UPC: 024543372264
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+AA- A-

DVD Review

There's been plenty said about The Hustler over the 45 years since its release, and I have precious little to add. I discovered the tough, vibrant, human film during its initial DVD release in 2002, and it's since come to be a favorite of mine. It has a slightly odd place in film history: well-received initially, and consistently ever since, it still always strikes me as underrated. I think that in many minds it's a great movie about pool, and is immediately damned with that faint praise. People remember primarily the brilliantly staged showdown between stars Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as "Fast Eddie" Felson and Minnesota Fats, but like any great sports movie, you'd be missing a great deal by not looking past the metaphor.

The plot, on its surface, isn't really complicated: Eddie Felson is a small-time but talented pool hustler, going from pool hall to pool hall eking out a living by convincing the over-confident that he's an amateur, until the moment is right to play for all he's got and take their money. There's as much art in that as there is in the game itself, but naturally these other players don't find his skills endearing. These light cons often end in brawls, and almost always end with Eddie moving on. He's secures one chance to prove that he can make it as a professional, that he's as good a player as he is a hustler. In a pool hall frequented by the legendary Minnesota Fats, he moves toward an epic tournament. He simultaneously finds himself falling in love with Sarah (Piper Laurie), or at least, finds her falling in love with him.

The Hustler is nothing if not seedy: dingy bars, shady pool halls, run-down apartments. All of its characters want more, and all are asked what price they'll pay. Fast Eddie dreams of the big-time to the exclusion of almost all else; Sarah escapes into alcohol and the wish for a life with Eddie. Minnesota Fats and George C. Scott's character, the vicious manager Bert, are two sides of a coin, two futures that Eddie imagines: but he's not a good enough pool player to ever be Fats, and he's not a good enough hustler to ever become the ruthless manipulator of people that keeps Bert living the good life. In many ways, this movie is about blessed mediocrity, unlike just about every other sports movie. Eddie's salvation isn't in being great, it's in being OK. There's very little in the American mythology about graciously accepting what's in front of us. We're always striving, always pushing ahead, which makes this a brilliant cautionary tale, and a quintessentially American movie.

Hustler was nominated for an extraordinary number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, along with nods to Newman, Gleason, Laurie, and a second for relative newcomer George C. Scott, who famously refused. Incidentally, perhaps, it won for nothing but cinematography.

I'm always struck by how modern it feels in spite of having been released in 1961. Robert Rossen's directing is critical to that feel, but the performances are absolutely pitch-perfect. If Marlon Brando could be said to have pioneered the gritty, naturalistic style of acting that prevails today (or is at least aspired to), director Rossen set his ensemble to take it one step further. While Brando brought a new humanity to film acting in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, he was nevertheless a force of nature, always an overwhelming presence. He couldn't quite help it. Paul Newman, on the other hand, is entirely believable as an ordinary, and deeply flawed, man who happens to be a brilliant pool player and an even better hustler. Jackie Gleason, in one of his relatively rare moves away from television, is larger than life, as always, but here seems appropriately subdued. He's been the hero of pool halls for longer than her can remember, and perhaps some of the thrill is gone. Piper Laurie and George C. Scott both give noteworthy performances, but there's electricity in those pool hall scenes between Gleason and Newman that propels The Hustler beyond the better-than-average sudser that it might have been into the ranks of the truly great American films.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer here is wonderful, with no softness or artifacting, and brilliant contrast that sets off the blacks and whites perfectly. It's hard to imagine that The Hustler has ever looked better.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The digital 2.0 audio transfer is clean and clear. It's not ostentatious, but well done nonetheless. The original mono track is included as well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Towering Inferno, What a Way to Go!, Hombre, From the Terrace, The Long Hot Summer, Quintet, The Verdict
3 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paul Newman, Carol Rossen, Dede Allen, Stefan Gierasch, Ulu Grosbard, Richard Schickel and Jeff Young
Packaging: Keep Case
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The original, single-disc "Special Edition" that was released a few years ago included a solid variety of extras. This new two-disc set carries over all of those extras, as well as adding several new ones.First, Disc 1 opens with a jazzy, retro-cool menu animation that easily ranks among the best I've ever seen on a disc. It's beautifully done, and almost worth the price of admission by itself. That fist disc includes a commentary with star Paul Newman, the director's daughter Carol Rossen, editor Dede Allen, actor Stefan Gierasch, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, critic Richard Schickel, and writer-producer Jeff Young. The track is carried over from the original, and offers various points of view and no dead air. It's edited together from a variety of interviews and moderated, which is quite successful. Also included on the first disc is a Trick Shot Analysis. By selecting this feature, pool expert Mike Massey will appear via picture-in-picture at five points during the film to discuss the shots. They can also be played individually.

Disc 2 includes the meat of the special features. First are two featurettes, Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness, and Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler. The first runs for about 12 minutes and focuses on the character of Fast Eddie and particularly Newman's iconic portrayal of the character. The second runs for just under a half-hour and deals with the film more generally. Together, they make for a solid document of the filmmaking and The Hustler's historic relevance. There's a great deal of overlap with the commentary track, and includes many of the same names. I'm also not quite clear on why the two new documentaries couldn't have been combined. Nevertheless, it's fascinating to hear the insights of the people that were involved in the production.

Next is another new featurette that runs about ten minutes: Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle. It's a brief discussion of the game-within-a-game that is pool hustling, with modern experts. The Hustler: The Inside Story is a carry-over from the previous release. At just under 25 minutes, it's another all-purpose discussion of the film, focusing a bit more on the pool and some of the technical aspects of the film than the newer features.

Paul Newman: Hollywood's Cool Hand is a full episode of A&E's Biography series, circa Road to Perdition. It's lightweight, but a nice addition. How to Make the Shot brings back pool expert Mike Massey to show us how trick shots in five of the film's scenes were done. This is similar to the Trick Shot Analysis on the first disc, but here he actually demonstrates rather than narrating. The Films of Paul Newman is a collection of eight trailers; most of these are classics, but the trailer for What a Way to Go! is not to be missed.

Finally, we have English and Spanish original trailers from the movie, as well as a still gallery.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

There may be a bit of duplication in the extras, but the two-disc set certainly gets points for thoroughness. This classic American film of winners, losers, and the high cost of success gets a great transfer along with the strong assortment of extras it deserves. What more do you need?

 


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