• Hustler, The

    Released by: Fox
    Released on: 5/17/2011
    Director: Robert Rossen
    Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott
    Year: 1961
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    The Movie:

    One of the most acclaimed films of the early 1960s, Robert Rossen’s The Hustler took home two Oscars in 1961 and was nominated for seven more including Best Picture, Best Actor for Paul Newman and Best Supporting Actor for Jackie Gleason. It’s rightfully gone on to be considered a legitimate classic and helped to put Paul Newman on the map as one of Hollywood’s most enduring leading men.

    Newman stars as ‘Fast’ Eddie Falson, a small time pool hustler with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Eddie is good, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s got an attitude and a pretty serious sense of pride. It’s not surprising then that when he gets the chance, he challenges Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), the best pool player around, to a match. Falson soon realizes that he wasn’t the hot shot he thought he was, and Fats beats him.

    No completely broke and having lost his manager as a result of the match, Falson pretty much loses faith in himself, hits the bottle pretty hard, and heads on a downward spiral. This changes when he’s approached by Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a fairly ruthless man who takes him on and decides to manage his career. Things start looking up under Gordon’s guidance, but Falson eventually finds that travelling the road to success is going to mean stepping on some toes and putting himself ahead of others, most noticeably his girlfriend, Sarah (Piper Laurie), who also has a taste for liquor.

    More about Falson’s self destructive lifestyle and inner conflict over how to handle his career, The Hustler uses the pool matches as a central point on which to let the characters develop (though the trick shots that we see in the movie are pretty impressive and a whole lot of fun to watch). It works incredibly well, you don’t need to be a pool player or billiards fan to enjoy the movie, and it lets the performances move to the front and center of the film the way a movie based around something more visually exciting like football or baseball might not be able to do. Shot in black and white, the film benefits from a rich atmosphere and Eugene Shuftan’s Academy Award winning cinematography which helps to build tension and mood perfectly.

    As good as this movie is on a technical and structural level, however, as mentioned it’s the performances that you’ll really remember. Newman is excellent here as the lead, playing his conflicted character wonderfully and never once stepping out of character or out of the realm of believability. Jackie Gleason is also excellent here, proving once and forever that he could handle serious dramatic roles just as well as he could the comedic parts he’s best known for. His Minnesota Fats is a tough customer and the normally jovial Gleason fits into his skin with eerie effectiveness. Scott is as gruff and tough as you’d expect him to be and if he’s not stretching too much here he plays his part well and is pretty much the perfect choice for the part, while Piper Laurie anchors Newman’s character and does a fine job of playing the love interest and the only thing in Falson’s life he might care about more than winning. Look for some interesting supporting players to pop up in the film as well, like Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton, Jake LaMotta and an uncredited Blue Washington.

    Making great use of its seedy pool hall locations and allowing its cast to really get into character and deliver some utterly convincing performances, The Hustler truly hits some lofty cinematic heights, a continually impressive mix of sound and image and a fairly flawless film.


    The Hustler arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition presentation that mops the floor with previous standard definition offerings. Detail and texture are much improved, to the point where you can almost feel that bead of sweat on a characters face or touch that loose thread on a shirt. Black levels are nice and deep, solid throughout, while contrast always looks very strong. The image is consistently sharp and well authored, showing no evidence of noise reduction and no problems with edge enhancement or compression artifacts and truthfully, outside of a 35mm screening, it’s hard to imagine the film’s Oscar winning cinematography looking any better than it does on this disc.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, which is the only lossless option on the disc, is pretty decent but not as impressive as the video transfer. The original mono mix has been retooled here for surround sound and while it’s been done reasonably well, there are times where the surround usage feels a bit forced. That said, there are no problems with clarity, hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced. An optional Dolby Digital 2.0 English language Mono track is included, as is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in Spanish and DTS 5.1 tracks in French, Portuguese and German. Optional subtitles are offered up in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Cantonese and Mandarin.

    Fox has upped the ante and included some choice new supplements for this Blu-ray debut starting with a new twenty-seven minute documentary, Paul Newman At Fox, which is basically just a look back at the films that Newman made for the studio, most of which are widely and rightfully considered to be classics. It’s a touching look at his work both as an actor and as a director and a nice inclusion on this disc. Jackie Gleason: The Big Man is a thirteen minute look at Gleason’s career and which goes a long way towards proving that he was more than just ‘the guy from The Honeymooners’ as anyone who has seen his work in The Hustler can already tell you. Also new to the disc is the twenty-minute featurette The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis, an audio only supplement that was taken from a radio interview Tevis did in which he explains the details behind his book and how certain events in his life inspired that book.

    Carried over from the DVD release is a wealth of other supplements, however, starting with the commentary track from Paul Newman, Carol Rossen, Dede Allen, Stefan Gierasch, Ullu Grosbard, Richard Schickel and Jeff Young. This is a pretty interesting and detailed discussion about the film and its history which really does a great job of getting into as much information as you could hope for.

    Also carried over are all of the featurettes that were on the DVD: Life In The Fastlane: Fast Eddie Felson And The Search For Greatness which is basically twelve minutes of interviews; Milestones In Cinema History: The Hustler which is a half hour examination of the importance of the film with some great cast and crew interviews; Swimming With Sharks: The Art Of The Hustle, which is ten minutes of professional pool players talking about hustling; the twenty four minute The Hustler: The Inside Story featurette which is another retrospective look at the film this time with input on many people who were influenced by it rather than those that participated in it; Trick Shot Analysis With Mike Massey which is a neat fourteen minute picture in picture commentary in which the pool pro talks over a few trick shot sequences from the movie; and the four minute How To Make Money With Mike Massey in which Massey shows off a few interesting trick shots of his own. The excellent forty-five minute A&E Biography episode, Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand Luke, is also included on the disc and while it’s not specific to The Hustler it is a great piece that sheds a lot of light on Newman’s personal life and career.

    Rounding out the extras are a few trailers, animated menus and chapter stops. The two new featurettes are in high definition, while all of the supplements carried over from the previous DVD special edition are, not surprisingly, in standard definition. The disc is housed inside a classy full color hardcover book package that includes facts and essays on the film as well as on its cast and crew.

    The Final Word:

    The Hustler is still an amazing film more than fifty years after it first played theaters in 1961. Chock full of perfect performances, beautiful camerawork and absolutely riveting throughout, it’s a movie well worth revisiting and this Blu-ray from Fox is a fantastic way to do it as it offers up a beautiful transfer, an improved sound mix, and more extra features than ever before. An impressive release in every way possible and an essential purchase.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      Sold me. The more I see Jackie Gleason the more I admire him. Better late than never right? What about George C. Scott in this one? No love? I think this was one of the best performances of his, at least of the ones I've seen. Great movie, great characters and performances, and great review.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      No love? I said he was perfect for the part, and he is. EVERYONE in this movie is awesome. You will geek out over this disc too, the transfer is great. Fox did an awesome job.
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      I missed his name. Sorry...I see the love for him. I recant my series of questions.