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Paul Newman is one of the greatest actors of all time. Consistently watchable, he stood alongside the likes of Steve McQueen and Robert Redford and made some truly classic movies: from Cool Hand Luke to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; The Towering Inferno to The Sting. Even in his latter years he still showed off his acting mettle in movies like The Verdict, Fort Apache The Bronx and, very recently, in The Road to Perdition. One of his early movies, possibly his first classic production, was The Hustler, where he portrayed a young pool hustler called Fast Eddie. So brilliant was his embodiment of this persona that Martin Scorsese decided to shoot a sequel to the movie ( The Colour of Money), with a much older but still great Newman. Finally Cinema Reserve has gotten their hands on the The Hustler and given us a brand spanking new two-disc special edition of the classic.

Hustler, The

Movie


‘Fast’ Eddie Felton is an arrogant young pool player whose skills almost match his huge ego. Almost. He’s no ordinary player; however, he is a pool shark—a hustler who dupes others into assuming he is a novice in order to raise the stakes high enough for him to win all of his money back and more. It’s a surprisingly dangerous game and some of his ‘marks’ are none too happy to be fleeced of their cash by this professional hustler. Worse still, there are other hustlers out there—other superior pool players who can play him at his own game.

His bread and butter comes in the form of small-time cons, often with the help of his foil, Charlie, who sets him up as this drunk gambling loser, so that he can trick others to make big bets against him. Of course, Eddie has much grander plans than just travelling from town to town, from bar to bar, winning a few hundred dollars here and there. Eddie wants to make the big-time, and in order to do that he must take down the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats. The question is, can he really beat this big man at his own game, or will the player find himself being played?

Hustler, The
Paul Newman gives us one of his most memorable performances here as ‘Fast’ Eddie, really relishing the glorious moments of euphoria as he lets his ego run wild and brags about his superiority at playing pool, but also getting to the heart of this gambling-addicted lost soul, who simply does not know when to quit. Newman is on top form, equally powerful in the sombre moments when he is just desperate to keep playing even though he has lost everything as he is in the moments where his rage takes over and he just will not see sense.

He is ably supported by several solid actors: stand-up comic Jackie Gleason gives a strong, serious performance as the oppressive, seemingly indomitable Minnesota Fats, Piper Laurie plays opposite Newman as his troubled love interest Sarah, a fractured alcoholic who simply cannot get through to the man she loves, and Myron McCormick is good as Eddie’s partner, Charlie, who just might have been keeping more than his fair share of Eddie’s winnings over their years together. We even get a young George C. Scott (probably best remembered in the title role of Patton or in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) as Minnesota Fats’ sinister big-league backer, Bert Gordon and a cameo by the real-life boxing champion Jake La Motta (who De Niro portrayed in Raging Bull) as a bartender.

Hustler, The
Robert Rossum directed his best work here. The man behind the little-known but superior psychological Warren Beatty drama Lilith, and who also went on to helm the Burton version of Alexander the Great (has anyone ever managed to do a decent Alexander epic?), he also wrote both of those movies, as well as co-wrote The Hustler’s intelligent screenplay. He really gets to the heart of these characters, these doomed heroes, central of which is Newman’s Eddie, a man who cannot live without utilising the unique skill which is also the very thing that is destroying him. Rossum makes the games tense (even giving us a couple of shots that Scorsese surely learned from not just in his solid sequel, The Colour of Money but also in most of his other work) and he makes the off-table antics dramatic, producing a fine classic here that is surely a must-have for anyone’s collection.

Video


The Hustler comes presented in a solid black and white 2.40:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Detail is excellent, with an acceptable level of softness, negligible edge enhancement and a remarkable lack of grain considering the age of the movie. The monochrome scheme allows for excellent shading, with decent blacks. Considering that the picture is nearly half a century old, this is an excellent video presentation.

Hustler, The

Audio


We also get a reasonably good Dolby Digital 5.1 remix to accompany the classic movie. The dialogue is clear and coherent (up to and including the bus station tannoy), with the effects (mostly atmospheric), like pool balls clacking against one another, given decent coverage. The score sounds moderately dated, but it is just in style with the era and keeps up the momentum for the duration. It is admittedly a superior Dolby Digital 2.0 track masquerading as a 5.1 mix, because the surrounds are quite underused, but it is the best soundtrack that I have ever come across for a picture this old

Extras


First up we get an audio commentary by Actor Paul Newman, Carol Rossen (director’s daughter), Dede Allen (editor), Stefan Gierasch (Preacher), Ulu Grosbard (assistant director), Richard Schickel (film critic) and Jeff Young (co-writer). The editor talks about it being rare to have a pre-credits sequence, the director’s daughter discusses the movie is really about winning and losing in America, how the pool hall is a metaphor for big corporations and how it was unusual to have a story focused on an anti-hero and anti-heroine. The co-writer furthers the discussion of winners and losers and then there’s Paul Newman himself—talking about how he did not even finish the script before he was convinced that he wanted to be in this movie. It is interesting to hear about the trouble the director got into during the McCarthy anti-communist era of ‘naming of names’ and to have so many different opinions on offer here, but this is really little more than a collection of interviews introduced by Stuart Galbraith, rather than a full-length commentary that actually relates to the on-screen action. It is still a good effort but having a full offering from Paul Newman paired with the writer or the editor may have a much more valuable affair.

Hustler, The
‘Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felton and the Search for Greatness’ is an eleven-minute featurette about Paul Newman and his role in the movie. There are interviews with many of those involved, including co-star Piper Laurie and of course Newman himself, but for an offering that is this short there are a shameful number of clips from the final film. We do get some interesting stills and comments from those questioned on interview (although much of the Newman stuff crosses over with the commentary) and overall fans of the movie will be happy to have yet more trivia to fill their brains, like how Newman did almost all of his own shots, how he learned about the world of pool hustling, his attention to detail on the script and the character he created.

‘Milestones in Cinema: The Making of The Hustler’ is a twenty-seven minute featurette that focuses more on the production itself, explaining its origins as a book, how it was developed into a much deeper movie, how the director chose to shoot it in black and white (even though there had been colour for quite some time) and how the movie was put together. The whole cast is dissected, as well as locations and the same commentators from the commentary appear in interview to give more detailed offerings on the production (again with many overlaps), making it another interesting featurette.

‘Swimming with Sharks: The Art of The Hustler’ is a ten minute featurette that focuses more on the game of pool portrayed within the movie and the art of pool hustling. Real players talk about hustling and how they work their magic, embracing new personas to fool their prey. It is quite an interesting offering, although it has no contributions from any of those involved in the actual production.

Hustler, The
‘The Hustler: The Inside Story’ is a twenty-three minute featurette that looks at the political backdrop to this production, how it was shot just after the McCarthy era, where the ‘witch-hunt’ had spurred some directors into rebelling and writing about the serious subject matters that they wanted to. It looks at the director’s history during this period and the significant issues of alcoholism and even suicide that were observed in this particular piece.

‘Paul Newman: Hollywood's Cool Hand’ is a forty-four minute biography of the man and his movies. It looks at his real-life roles as an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a political activist and a race-car driver, as well as of course his film career. We hear his family history, how he got into movies, getting into character as the boxer Rocky Marciano in Somebody Up There Likes Me, his racing success, his fame for on-set pranks and how he met his current wife some fifty years ago whilst working on a movie together, with contributions from both of them. There are lots of background stills and interesting early footage of Newman (including a screen-test alongside James Dean), as well as many clips from his movies. It is one of the most interesting, personal and comprehensive offerings on this disc, marred only by the horribly trite voice-over throughout. Fans of Newman will find that this is a must-see featurette.

‘How to Make the Shot’ is a five-part featurette, split into five deconstructions of key shots: the opening scene, six in the corner, the cross-corner combo shot, one ball in corner pocket and the masse shot. World Champion Trick Shot Artist Mike Massey analyses and dissects each of the shots, reproducing them for your viewing pleasure. They are short, but still interesting offerings.

We also get the theatrical trailers for the movie and a stills gallery of a dozen shots that include on and off-set stills, production photos and promotional material.

Hustler, The

Overall


The Hustler is one of those classics that is deserves to be in every serious film-fan’s collection. It presents a very young Paul Newman, already showing just how amazing his skills are, in a drama that set the precedent for many similar stories over subsequent decades. The video and audio presentations are solid, but not exactly outstanding, other than in the fact that I have never come across any movie this old that looks this good. The extras are extensive and generally very interesting. I highly recommend this to anybody who has not seen it and fans should know that this is probably the best edition released so far of this all-time classic.


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