A great movie featuring a superb cast.
Too many people on the commentary track.
Paul Newman burns up the screen as Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler. Felson is a crackshot pool hustler. He is nickle and diming his way across the country but what he really wants is to be great. However, he's also an alcoholic and when he goes up against Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) he finds an elite opponent he can beat, yet Eddie ends up beating himself. Soon he meets a Sarah (Piper Laurie), a prostitute he falls in love with. They begin living together and Eddie soon gets Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) to be his manager. Gordon is a bad man and soon shows Eddie just how costly winning can be. In the end, The Hustler isn't a triumphant movie about a man overcoming odds. Rather it is a film about a man coming terms with the odds placed in front of him and doing his best to get past them.
As one of the classic pieces of American cinema, this stylishly done movie, doesn't seem like it's lost anything since its original release in 1961.
Present on this commentary track are Paul Newman, Film Historian Jeff Young, Film Critic Richard Schickel, Carol Rossen (the Director's daughter), Editor Dede Allen, Stefan Gierasch (he played the role of Preacher) and Assistant Director Ulu Grosbard. Okay, I like a good commentary track as much as the next guy but I think the creators of this DVD might have gone a little bit overboard here. I waded through this as best I could picking up how the movie was both shot in New York and edited there as well. Gierasch talks about auditioning for the role of Preacher, and some of the critics talk about Robert Rossen testifying against communists. Basically, he held out for as long as he could and then when he finally spilled the beans he was vilified by many of his peers. Newman talked about researching the part of Fast Eddie Felson and finding out the way that pool hustlers really worked.
There are three featurettes on this release that deal with pool. They are:
- Trick Shot Analysis
- How To Make the Shot
- Swimming With Sharks: The Art of the Hustle
Okay, I appreciate them looking at pool and examining the effect of this movie on pool players, but I think they maybe should have relegated these things to simply one featurette. In Swimming With Sharks: The Art of the Hustle, we are given a history of pool, they talk about how it was looked at as family fun (which I am sure to many it still is), and how gambling has always been a part of the game in some respect. How To Make the Shot breaks down various shots, but the problem that I had with that is these featurettes aren't very practical. There's really no way that you can learn how to do these shots unless you own a pool table and then follow along. Since I don't, I enjoyed seeing these shots but it really didn't go much further than that. Decide for yourself...
Paul Newman Featurettes
The Hustler Featurettes
Fox has chosen to give us three featurettes on The Hustler and, truthfully, they all seem to cover similar ground. The titles for the featurettes are:
- Life In the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search For Greatness
- Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler
- The Hustler: The Inside Story
Just looking at these titles I am sure you get the point that there is some redundancy here. The Hustler: The Inside Story looks at how good of a pool player Jackie Gleason was and how, before this film, Paul Newman hadn't ever picked up a pool cue (supposedly). This featurette then goes into how this movie got made and it examines that point in history when people were afraid of a communist plot. Life In the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search For Greatness discusses how there had never been a picture about a pool player before, and that Newman as an actor had always shown the promise to play this kind of role. Like the other featurettes, this one looks at the making of the film and at about this point in my viewing experience things were getting very redundant.
2.35:1 - Anamorphic Widescreen. In clearly rendered black and white this movie looked awesome. I think what really comes off in this film are the mixing of all the actor's styles. We have Newman, Scott, Gleason and Laurie and whether they are on screen alone or in an ensemble, all of these styles manage to mesh together nicely. Since this movie uses a lot of wide shots to let the action play out, in a lot of ways the naturalistic performances make this film feel like a documentary. The compression process seems like it was masterfully done with only a few shots in this 135 minute film looking a tad overly compressed.
Dolby Digital. English - Stereo and Mono. Spanish and French Mono. Subtitled in English and Spanish. Close Captioned. Filled with good music and awesome dialogue, the audio on this film was really well put together. They used the soundtracks to tell us what Fast Eddie and the other characters were feeling, but this movie never seemed to hold our hands in that respect. Truth be told, The Hustler is very much a performance piece but the audio on 20th Century Fox's part is top notch.
Fast Eddie takes a shot on this front cover with Minnesota Fats looking on. They have colored up this image and the filters they use give it a portrait-type look. The back cover shows us a shot of Eddie thinking about things. There is a description of this movie, a Special Features listing, a credits list and technical specs. Fox has snugly put both discs inside this amaray case which also contains liner notes on this film.
What makes The Hustler such a great film is that it's a star vehicle but it isn't. There isn't redemption. Fast Eddie really doesn't overcome anything. Even when he does, it comes at such a cost that it doesn't seem worth the trouble at all. Yet, the performances in this movie are so strong, the craftsmanship from director Robert Rossen so superb, that this film manages to defy everything that present day storytelling seems to say a screenplay must have. As I was watching this movie, I realized that there was almost no way that it could get made today. I don't think many actors would want to be seen in the light that this film casts them in. I know that this movie might seem too clean and dyspeptic by some cineastes, but The Hustler really is as down and dirty as they come.
I can think of no better way to own The Hustler than in this two disc set.
The Hustler was released September 25, 1961.