The Hustler

 

The Hustler

50th Anniversary Edition

Screenplay by Sidney Carroll & Robert Rossen

Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis

Directed by Robert Rossen

1961

 

Cast:

Paul Newman

Piper Laurie

George C. Scott

Jackie Gleason

Myron McCormick

Murray Hamilton

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Rossen Films

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 CinemaScope

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Disc Size: 44.22 GB

Feature Size: 27.28 GB

Avg. Total Bit Rate: 18.99 Mbps

Runtime: 135 minutes

Chapters: 31

Region: All


Audio

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0 (original mono)

French & German DTS 5.1

Spanish & Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0 (commentary)


Subtitles

Optional English (SDH), Chinese, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai & Turkish


Extras: (SD except as noted):

• Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler (28:05)

• Audio commentary by Paul Newman, Carol Rossen, Dede Allen, Stefan Gierasch, Ulu Grosbard, Richard Schickel and Jeff Young

• Paul Newman at Fox - in HD (27:11)

• Jackie Gleason: The Big Man - in HD (12:04)

• The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis - audio only (18:55)

• Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness (11:50)

• Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle (9:38)

• The Hustler: The Inside Story (24:33)

• Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand (43:44)

• Trick Shot Analysis by Mike Massey (13:51)

• How to Make the Shot with Mike Massey (3:51)

• US and Spanish theatrical trailers (3:21)

• 26-page Digibook


Presentation:

Blu-ray Digibook: BRD x 1

Release Date: May 17, 2011



Introduction

Robert Rossen is known primarily for one movie: The Hustler. He directed, produced (with his own production company) and co-wrote the film based on a novel by Walter Tevis.  It's a movie that after fifty years remains iconic.  It is as much associated with its star, Paul Newman, as Cool Hand Luke.  The Hustler generated a sequel twenty-five years later in which Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson against a younger comer, Vince Lauria, played by Tom Cruise. The Color of Money, despite its having been directed by Martin Scorsese, would not do for Cruise what it did for Newman - or Jackie Gleason, for that matter.


Fox offers this "50th Anniversary" Blu-ray edition in a prestigious Digibook presentation that includes a 26-page booklet with essays and photos.  It's well worth the color of your money.


     


The Movie: 9

Rossen pitches his movie as a series of tableaux about the game of pool, about winning and losing, about character and self-respect.  There's hardly a frame anywhere that doesn't work as a dramatic black & white still photo, filled with meaning and intent.  The script is much the same, feeling more suitable for a play than a motion picture.  It would have been comfortable on one of those live television productions from the likes of NBC's "Playhouse 90" or CBS' "Climax."  It is probably no coincidence that Rossen cast Piper Laurie as a sympathetic alcoholic since she played a similar role in John Frankenheimer's production of JP Miller's "Days of Wine and Roses" for Playhouse 90 in 1958, a critically acclaimed play that also featured Cliff Robertson in the role that Jack Lemmon (assisted by Lee Remick) made his own in Blake Edwards' film the year after "The Hustler."


     


Together with his partner, friend and father figure, Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick), Fast Eddie sets up the unsuspecting pool player or hanger on, to bet small and large amounts of money against what appears to be a guy who can’t hold his liquor (to cite one of their gambits), and then Eddie blows them off the table with his finesse.  Indeed, Eddie Felson is one hell of a pool player.  He has amazing technique and an outsized ego to go with it.  His lifelong ambition is to face the best of the best: Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), and take him for all his worth. 


The trouble is that Eddie’s bravura is a screen for a damaged self-image.  If he can crush and belittle the other guy then he gets to feel better about himself.  Most of the men he faces have the same difficulty in varying degrees so, given Eddie’s skill, they’re easy pickins.  But the “Fat Man” is quite another story.  He’s calm, he dresses up for pool, not down.  He hardly sweats.  Not only because he has deserved confidence in his game but because the the game is not life and death for him, nor is it about humiliation.


     


When Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a local gangster of sorts who bankrolls various players, declares Felson to be “a loser” Eddie hardly believes what he hears.  At this point in the game he is well ahead, but we can feel a crack appear in his armor that spells certain disaster.


The second act of the movie finds Eddie down on his luck.  He meets Sarah (Piper Laurie) at a bus stop cafe and moves in with her.  Sarah is an educated woman, the likes of which Eddie probably has never met.  Eddie himself probably never finished high school.  But Sarah is an alcoholic with a thin skin that she protects only with her alert mind and caustic wit.  We are set up to expect things will go badly for her if she connects with Eddie, notwithstanding his declaration to have given up hustling.  With Charlie no longer in the picture and Bert reappearing to seduce Eddie back into the game, a triangle is developed to vie for Eddie’s soul.


     


I must confess that I’ve never been entirely convinced by Sarah.  As much as I like her, her presence feels to me like a plot device manufactured to achieve the desired results.  She goes down too willingly and sets up Eddie’s moment of truth too certainly.  And, as much as I admire Newman, and see him with a cue stick as clearly and easily as Henry Gondorff fleeces Doyle Lonnegan, he gets more mileage off his charm than just about any actor I know.  There are scenes where he loses focus of where his character was a moment ago and where he is now (easy to do filming a movie).


These carps aside, there is much to admire about Rossen’s movie.  Visually the picture is a knockout and won justly deserved Oscars for Harry Horner and Gene Callahan’s Art Direction and for its cinematographer, Eugen Schüfftan.  The games are smartly edited By Dede Allen, building up tension even if we do not always see how every shot is made - nor should we, I think.  All the supporting actors are superb, to single out any one or two of them would be a slight.  The Hustler is good drama, like the kind of movie that don’t hardly make any more.


     


Image: 8/9

Except for the opening shots before Eddie and Charlie enter their first pool bar, where the image is noticeably thin, the overall impression is convincingly gritty and filmlike.  Contrast is not pumped up, Edges are not enhanced,  Noise is not reduced.  Grain structure is pretty well held up. Blacks are deep.  Greyscale is complete. The source print is very good with no distressing scratches or dirt.


Audio & Music: 6/8

Once again, the urge to create a 5.1 surround mix out of an original mono track not only receives the royal lossless treatment, but the original mix is casually dismissed with a mere Dolby Digital.  Even so, I still preferred it - not because I am a purist, which I am for the most part, but because it sounds better.  It has more focus, clarity, dynamic punch.  Go figure.


     


Extras: 9

Seven bonus features from the DVD are duplicated here in their “original” SD format, along with an audio commentary, hosted by Stuart Galbraith that pulls together Paul Newman, Carol Rossen (Robert’s daughter), Dede Allen, actor Stefan Gierasch, asst director, Ullu Grosbard and critic Richard Schickel.  In addition, Fox gives us two new documentaries, both in passable HD, on the movie’s main subjects: actors Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason. There is also a “new” audio piece from a 1984 radio interview with the man upon whose novel this movie is based: “The Real Hustler”: Walter Tevis.  The Digibook contains photos and smart essays about Newman, Gleason, Laurie, Scott and Rossen.


     

 

Recommendation: 9

Hats off to Fox for a loving presentation.  Aside from the lack of a lossless audio track for the original mono, there is nothing to gainsay here and everything to say in its favor.  Coolly recommended.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 17, 2011



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