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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD Review

The Hustler: Collector's Edition DVD Review

The Hustler (1961) movie poster - click to buyThe Hustler (1961) movie poster #2 - click to buy The Hustler

Theatrical Release: September 25, 1961 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Robert Rossen

Cast: Paul Newman (Eddie Felson), Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats), Piper Laurie (Sarah Packard), George C. Scott (Bert Gordon), Myron McCormick (Charlie Burns), Murray Hamilton (Findley), Michael Constantine (Big John), Stefan Gierasch (Preacher), Cliff Pellow (Turk), Jake LaMotta (Bartender), Gordon B. Clarke (Cashier), Alexander Rose (Score Keeper), Carolyn Coates (Waitress), Carl York (Young Hustler), Vincent Gardenia (Bartender)

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The first time we see Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), the protagonist of The Hustler, he appears to be on top of the world. He's got a lucrative act, a sensible partner (Myron McCormick), and he can't help but beam every few minutes. We needn't witness the pool balls enter the pockets to appreciate that, even apparently drunk, "Fast Eddie" has just hustled another small town pool hall, hitting an unlikely shot and earning a few hundred dollars in the process.

But, we soon learn that Eddie has problems. In a high stakes showdown with one of the nation's most renowned pool players, Eddie endures more than 24 straight hours of the game. Running only on booze and cigarettes, he is "up" more than $18,000, but refuses to quit until his opponent, the calm, composed Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) agrees to give up. Against the advice of his right-hand man, Eddie fights sleep to keep his pride intact and escapes with just a couple of hundred dollars.

Paul Newman smiles widely as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in "The Hustler." Stakehorse Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) and pool legend Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) coolly move forth with their plan to defeat Fast Eddie.

Living out of a bus station, Eddie encounters Sarah (Piper Laurie), a woman with an excess of time, a strange imagination, a slight cripple, and a dependency on alcohol. Out of desperation as much as attraction, they hit it off and Eddie begins living with, and living off, her. Unable or perhaps just unmotivated to earn a living any other way
(it doesn't help that his reputation precedes him), Eddie reluctantly forms an alliance with Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a wealthy, relentless man who agrees to back Eddie for a majority stake in any earnings.

Indulging his insatiable competitive spirit, Eddie joins Bert for a trip to Louisville during prime gambling season, with Sarah tagging along. It is a trip which tests the priorities of Eddie, challenges his knack for pocket billiards, and threatens his strengthening relationship with the needy Sarah.

Adapted from the 1959 Walter Tevis novel of the same name, The Hustler is an involving drama which leads viewers to take full interest in the small cast of flawed characters. As such, it is a performance-oriented film. Gladly, it delivers some terrific turns. Leading all is Paul Newman, who earned his second Oscar nomination for his work here. Newman didn't win, nor did his nominated co-stars Piper Laurie (Leading Actress), George C. Scott (Supporting Actor), and Jackie Gleason (Supporting Actor). But all contribute much to the proceedings. Like Newman, Laurie elicits sympathy with her human performance. Patton star Scott, who refused the Academy's nod, is reliably compelling, making Gordon anything but a simple villain. Gleason, five years after the enduring lone season of "The Honeymooners", is anything but Ralph Kramden. Despite being in just two important scenes, his restrained coolness lingers as the affecting antithesis of Newman's fire, making one not object to his prominent cover billing and placement.

Eddie admires Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), the troubled new woman in his life. In teaming with the shady Bert, who repeatedly calls him a loser, Eddie is looking to win respect in addition to money.

An exercise in understatement, The Hustler delivers near-perfect pacing even with a relatively uneventful journey and a substantial 135-minute runtime. One can't help but invest in Eddie's thirst for meaning, which thousands of dollars and not even a more modest and necessary winnings sum can provide him. The same holds true for the unusual Sarah who, like Eddie, appears to be drifting through life with nothing to show for it.


More Paul Newman movie posters,
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With its then-edgy material and not overdramaticized tone, this film feels quite modern to be approaching 50. Only the rarest exchanges of dialogue, typically between Eddie and Sarah, show any signs of age.

The Color of Money, the final book by author Tevis (who also penned the 1963 sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, currently being developed for its third film treatment), was loosely tapped for Touchstone Pictures' 1986 sequel of the same name. Reprising his role as Fast Eddie, twenty-five years older but still drawn to the hustle (this time as mentor to young Tom Cruise), Paul Newman was awarded the only competitive Oscar of his career.

Fox first released The Hustler to DVD in June of 2002 as a single-disc Special Edition. Five years later, the movie has been upgraded to a two-disc set, which small text on the spine of the case designates a Collector's Edition. Underneath the moniker is the number 30, which puts this classic film in the same DVD class as twenty-nine younger films, ranging from Newman's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Elektra, that have all been treated to two-disc sets.

Buy The Hustler: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English),
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Hustler is in a rare class of black and white movies filmed in CinemaScope. Visually, it takes advantage of both the wider dimensions and the colorless palette to evoke a feeling unlike most other 1960s movies, which seem either flashy or hokey by comparison. (The mise-en-scène provided The Hustler with its only two wins -- Cinematography and Art Direction, both limited to black and white fare -- out of nine Oscar nominations.) Those hoping for a drastic improvement over the previous DVD might be disappointed, because this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation seems quite similar to the 2002 Special Edition's. That's not a bad thing, though, since this transfer boasts a detailed, usually sharp, and mostly clean appearance.

Minnesota Fats ("The Honeymooners" star Jackie Gleason) chuckles through smoke, as seen in the 2002 Special Edition DVD. (Click to view in full 720 x 480.) Minnesota Fats once again chuckles past a cloud of smoke, in the same shot as it's seen on this new Collector's Edition DVD. (Click to view in full 720 x 480.)

Screencap from the movie's 2002 Special Edition DVD

Screencap of same shot from this Collector's Edition DVD

A tiny handful of print flaws crop up, and they're usually nothing more than a stationary particle near the top of the frame, essentially identical to before. The most obvious anomaly comes during Eddie and Sarah's post-dinner, pre-Kentucky rainy night discussion -- an hour and 33 minutes into the film -- when a vertical line divides the frame just left of the center point. It was present on the previous disc, only it somehow seems more pronounced (and less digitally blurry) here than before. Compression has been pushed less on this DVD, as it boasts an average bit rate of 7.58 Mb/sec, considerably exceeding the previous release's 5.88 Mb/sec. On the whole, the new DVD's picture is a little richer and slightly sharper. Those with gigantic televisions might consider the enhancement upgrade-worthy, but they'll still notice a little room for improvement. Most viewers, however, should be plenty pleased with this treatment, which allows a nicely-shot classic to shine.

The soundtrack is again offered in your choice of Dolby Digital Mono or Dolby Digital Stereo. The differences are none too noticeable, nor are the differences between the audio on the Collector's Edition and the Special Edition. In all of the above, the dialogue is entirely intelligible and there is a fair amount of range and depth to the sound mix, despite a very slight hiss present throughout. This new version adds a Spanish language track, but unfortunately, you still can't toggle audio and subtitle settings while the movie is playing.

Champion pool trick shooter Mike Massey appears in picture-in-picture for Disc 1's "Trick Shot Analysis." Supporting his chin, Paul Newman recalls "The Hustler" in "Life in the Fast Lane." Actress Piper Laurie is among those interviewed for two new Disc 2 featurettes.

BONUS FEATURES

Two bonus features reside on Disc 1 and both are carried over from the movie's 2002 DVD. First is an audio commentary with seven participants: Paul Newman, director's daughter Carol Rossen, editor Dede Allen, actor Stefan Gierasch, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, and film historians Richard Schickel and Jeff Young. Don't worry if that sounds like a packed house, because the commentators have been interviewed separately, by host Stuart Galbraith, and had their observations pieced together in a logical fashion.
There are positives and negatives to this format, which yields a spontaneity-free, not very screen-specific discussion that is quite focused, orderly, and sufficiently planned. One of the more prominent topics covered is director Robert Rossen and how he was affected by name-naming during Hollywood's Communist-blacklisting time; his daughter even reads a little from her book. All participants discuss how they came to be involved with The Hustler and share memories of cast members, key crew, and production. There's also talk of the film's significance, "ahead of its time" nature, and impact plus just a tiny touch of pretentious film historian babble on the movie's politics. Perhaps the most interesting remarks come from Allen, still working today in her 80s, who shares her thoughts on her efforts, the sequel, and the ever-changing editing field.

Second is "Trick Shot Analysis", offered as five individual segments (ranging from 0:22 to 6:40) or an accompaniment to full playback of the feature. Either way, champion pool trick shooter Mike Massey appears in a picture-in-picture window to comment upon scenes of gameplay. His observations will have more appeal to those who play pool (and hustle) than those who just like the movie, as he remarks upon the accuracy of the scenes and the techniques they showcase. At the five selected points, the segments are designed to overpower the film, with Massey's audio drowning out the film's and video utilizing a subtitle track. With a total runtime of just 14½ minutes, however, it's very tough to justify a complete rewatching for proper context. Pool non-buffs would be fine to skip this.

Disc 2 kicks off with three new featurettes. First is "Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and The Search for Greatness" (11:50), which focuses on Paul Newman and his Hustler anti-hero. Near-excessive film clips join footage from interviews with actress Piper Laurie, editor Dede Allen, actor Michael Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), overdramatic USC film professor Dr. Drew Casper, and Newman himself (slightly repeating a commentary story).

The 28-minute "Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler" employs the same cast as the previous piece, as Laurie, Allen, Constantine, Casper, and Newman this time talk about the movie as a whole, commenting on certain technical or dramatic aspects, and the personalities and performances of Newman's supporting cast. As the closest thing to a new general documentary, this feels too limited to stand on its own and doesn't offer much that isn't already supplied elsewhere. It seems like it should have been combined with the Fast Eddie featurette for a more complete retrospective of the film.

"Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle", another extra that non-fans of pool might consider skipping, finds Max Eberle giving hustling tips. George C. Scott shakes hands with a guest at the premiere screening of "The Hustler", as seen in recycled featurette "The Inside Story." One of Hollywood's longest-married couples, Paul Newman and actress Joanne Woodward laugh in recalling their earliest moments of romance in Newman's A&E Biography episode, "Hollywood's Cool Hand."

Unsurprisingly, "Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle" (9:37) deals with real-life pool hustling. Pro pool player Max Eberle and Hustler Days author R.A. Dyer separately share some history, terms, tactics, and tricks of the central activity depicted in the film. Warning: this piece plants the seeds to a potentially lucrative/dangerous gambling gig that could result in broken fingers.

Carried over from the old DVD is "The Hustler: The Inside Story (24:30)", touching upon all the topics you'd expect including those covered elsewhere. An overview of production looks at the film's social issues and cast performances, with interview comments from Time film critic Richard Schickel, Carol Eve Rossen, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, and Hustler fan Jerry Orbach (the late "Law & Order" actor). This general documentary also spends plenty of time on pool and hustling in it. To that end, Mike Massey, billiard historian Charles J. Ursitti, and author Stanley Cohen discuss the film's use of their game, the history of pool, and the players who adopted names of Hustler's personas and profited. Though intermittent cheesy narration makes it feel a little like a dated electronic press kit piece, this featurette still merits a viewing and includes some interesting newsreel footage from the movie's premiere.

The final new addition, "Paul Newman: Hollywood's Cool Hand" (43:40) is a complete episode of A&E's involving channel-spawning "Biography" series, illustrating once again Fox's winning willingness to obtain relevant supplements from other companies. Documenting Newman's rise to fame, his screen success, his personal life, and charitable causes, this fine show informs and entertains heartily. There are clips from Newman's standout movies and their trailers (the actor's most productive decade -- the '60s -- grabs the bulk of attention), comments from a biographer and a number of his co-stars (among them, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Redford, Tom Bosley, Angela Lansbury, and wife Joanne Woodward), and excerpts from relevant TV appearances. There's even footage of the future salad dressing magnate auditioning with James Dean. This presentation is the 2002 updated version of the episode, opening and closing with Newman's then-new release, Road to Perdition.

Mike Massey returns for Disc 2's "How to Make the Shot" shorts, though he's more interested in showing off than instructing. "El Audaz de Robert Rossen", which translates to "The Hustler by Robert Rossen", is how the film was promoted to Spanish audiences, as seen in one of two theatrical trailers included. Disc 1's Main Menu makes good use of thematic animation and imagery from "The Hustler."

"How to Make the Shot" brings back Mike Massey from Disc 1. A more appropriate title would be "Watch Me Make the Shot", as the pool trickster reveals very little while recreating (and sinking) five challenging shots from The Hustler. The short clips run 3½ minutes altogether, though a "Play All" option is clearly lacking.

A section called "The Films of Paul Newman" holds trailers for eight other Fox films featuring the Hustler star. These preview Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (0:55), From the Terrace (3:12), Hombre (2:20), The Long, Hot Summer (2:36), Quintet (1:33), The Towering Inferno (2:12), The Verdict (2:18), and What a Way to Go! (2:55).

Two theatrical trailers for The Hustler are also included.
Blockbuster_TotalAccess_300x250_12.19.06
Running 3 minutes and 20 seconds each, these lengthy promos are nearly identical, only the second one is for Spanish audiences and features subtitles and foreign text.

Finally, a skimpy Still Gallery holds six production/promotional stills and three advertisement/poster images.

The only feature lost from the 2002 Special Edition DVD is the set of THX Optimizer tests for calibrating picture and sound.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The black and white menus appropriately incorporate billiards imagery into their design. Both disc's main menus cleverly mixes pictures and video from the film with animated graphics of iconic pool hall images.

Inside the standard width keepcase, one finds a fold-open booklet that spends half of its six pages to worthwhile notes on the film, its production and reception. Another two-sided insert promotes Paul Newman's best known half-dozen of Fox films on DVD.

Fast Eddie prepares to turn heads with a corner shot. Eddie and Sarah enjoy an awkward but pleasant bus station drink session together.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though pool scenes are plentiful, The Hustler doesn't demand a knowledge of the game or an appreciation for it. All the movie requires is the slightest interest in the human condition. That, met with the film's compelling design and expert performances, is enough to ensure you'll care about these characters and what happens to them.

This two-disc Collector's Edition provides slight gains in picture, three new featurettes, more bonus trailers, and, best of all, the Paul Newman episode of "Biography." It's definitely a nicer package overall than the previous release and is in no way inferior to that now-discontinued single-disc. Still, there are doubtlessly more substantial upgrades to be had which would be a better use of your money. That said, if this film isn't already among the classics in your DVD collection, then this version more than satisfies with what it offers for its modest price tag.

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The Cast of The Hustler:
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The Book: The Hustler by Walter Tevis



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Reviewed June 7, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 UltimateDisney.com. Images copyright 1961/2007 20th Century Fox. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.