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An up-and-coming pool player plays a long-time champion in a single high-stakes match.
For more about The Hustler and the The Hustler Blu-ray release, see the The Hustler Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 13, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Robert Rossen
Writers: Sidney Carroll, Robert Rossen, Walter Tevis
Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton
» See full cast & crew
The Hustler Blu-ray Review
Hustle and get this release.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 13, 2011
When Paul Newman died in 2008, he was such a cultural icon that it was hard to remember there was a time when he was just another actor. While Newman slowly but surely cemented his status as a leading man on the rise with a number of films throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and while several of his early films were immensely popular, he probably didn't erupt into true superstardom until circa 1967-69, with such films as Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. From that time on, of course, he became a commodity of sorts, an actor who regularly not only received high praise for his work, but maintained an incredible popularity with the movie going public. Newman grew into a directing career and then of course really became a commodity with his brand of food items which are still sold today, with profits going to charities. How many actors can you list whose names are synonymous with popcorn and marinara sauce? But in 1961, when Robert Rossen's The Hustler came out, Newman was just one of several handsome young leading men who were still staking out their careers. Newman had made an impression in several films by that time, both for good (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus) and ill (The Silver Chalice). But probably no one was prepared for the depth and nuance he brought to his role as Fast Eddie Felson, a conniving pool shark on the make to prove himself the best at his stock in trade. Rossen, a fascinating writer-director who was one of the few left-leaning artists to survive the House Unamerican Activities inquisition, brought a dark and frankly depressing ambience to this film, one of the most morally decrepit and troubling movies of its era. But perhaps Rossen's most amazing achievement is how he peeled back layers of s the inherently sunny Newman demeanor to let it become imbued with a streak of sinister contempt, even outright viciousness, an approach that colored this film in unexpected ways and helped to cement its reputation as a modern classic.
Paul Newman won the only Academy Award of his long and prestigious career (other than his honorary Jean Hersholt Award) for playing Fast Eddie Felson, but not for The Hustler. In one of the most brilliant pieces of trans-generational casting ever, Martin Scorsese utilized Newman as an older Fast Eddie in The Color of Money, where Newman was now the old pro and Tom Cruise the brash young wannabe whom Newman himself had been in the 1961 Rossen outing. While the 1986 Fast Eddie is perhaps at least a little kinder and gentler, and certainly more weathered and wise, than the young Fast Eddie is, it's absolutely fascinating (and instructive) to watch Newman's takes on this character from two radically different vantage points. While Newman was rightfully nominated for Best Actor for The Hustler (only his second nomination, after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), it's interesting to note that his actual statuette came for the only time in Academy history where an actor was recreating a role from an earlier film for which he had also been nominated.
The Hustler's plot is both fairly basic while at the same time being filled with nuance, at least in terms of small revelatory moments with regard to all of the major characters. The basic outline of the plot is simply who's hustling whom, as Fast Eddie, ever on the make and party to his own hubristic ambitions, decides the way to make his reputation is by dethroning the reigning pool hall king, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason in an absolutely amazing, Oscar nominated performance). Fast Eddie is avaricious, desperate and not completely the master of his own roiling emotions, while Minnesota Fats is the slightly dilapidated but ostensibly wiser graybeard who sees Fast Eddie for what he is, and recognizes Fast Eddie's con for what it is. Playing out against this central duel of sorts, is an unsettling love story between Fast Eddie and a partially crippled woman named Sarah (Piper Laurie in her Oscar nominated performance), as well as a sidebar subplot involving Minnesota Fats' manager, a gambling addicted schmoozer named Bert (George C. Scott in, yes, his Oscar nominated performance). (A lot of people remember Scott refusing his Oscar for Patton in 1970, but fewer people remember he actually refused his nomination for The Hustler).
1961 audiences may have been out and out shocked by the seedy ambience that suffuses The Hustler. This is a film with a smarmy subtext which touches on all sorts of Id-based, animalistic urges, and it's to Rossen's credit that he does not blink even once as he explores the ins and outs of all of these characters' manifold issues and flaws. It's interesting to note that the one character whose morals seems to be intact, Piper Laurie's haunting Sarah, is afflicted with a physical trauma, as if Rossen can't let anyone completely off the hook. Rarely has a film worn so much raw emotion on its figurative sleeve, and that emotional intensity may in fact have led a lot of early 1960s audiences to avert their eyes. The intervening years may have hardened audiences' innate sensitivities to the point where much of The Hustler doesn't actually shock any longer, but there is still an incredibly visceral, gut wrenching aspect to this film that is all but unforgettable after it's been experienced.
While The Hustler is often thought of as a "pool movie," the fact is the central emotional tether is really between the Newman and Laurie characters, and it's in that nascent relationship that Fast Eddie has a passing chance at salvation. Of course a con man like Eddie isn't always "fast" on the uptake of what would ultimately be best for his soul, and it's in that dichotomy where The Hustler derives its real dramatic heft.
The Hustler Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Hustler looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray courtesy of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1. The film's special edition DVD from a few years ago looked pretty spectacular itself, and that same sharpness and clarity is only increased on this new release. There is virtually no damage, save for some very, very minor issues, on the source elements and the richness of the blacks is really amazing at times. Contrast is exceptional, and fine detail is completely intact with a very natural looking grain structure. Fox has done itself proud once again with this release. Rossen's insistence to film The Hustler on location pays off incredibly well, and the grimy aspect of the city and the pool halls is virtually palpable on this new release. Shadow detail is also quite remarkable at times, bringing new dimension into the murky scenes during the showdown segments. This film won a well deserved Oscar for its black and white cinematography, and The Hustler's gorgeously gritty look is fully on display on this new Blu-ray.
The Hustler Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Some may accuse me of being a little churlish with my score of The Hustler's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but the fact is the limitations of the source stems simply can't be overcome. The boxiness of the sound is apparent from Alfred Newman's iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare on, and in fact the lossless audio only seems to highlight the narrow, tinny sound that was readily apparent on previous home video releases of The Hustler. OK, that's the bad news. The good news is, if you can get past that unappealing processed sound, Kenyon Hopkins' evocative score has never sounded better, and the 5.1 repurposing is really rather artful, with well positioned environmental effects and excellent, if not overwhelming, immersion. Dialogue is crisp and clear and the overall mix is very pleasing. The original mono mix of the film, delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0, is also available.
The Hustler Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There is a wealth of supplemental content on this Blu-ray, including everything (save for the Stills Gallery) from the previously released 2 DVD Special Edition, as well as several new items. The new items are:
The Hustler Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bolstered by a quartet of simply amazing performances (Newman, Laurie, Gleason, Scott), this is an acting tour de force the likes of which must have amazed 1961 audiences. The film's achievement is so shattering that the depth, nuance and power of those performances seems hardly diminished by the intervening years. Though The Hustler is undeniably seedy, it's a gritty, grimy look at desperate characters trying to carve out a piece of their own twisted version of the American Dream. It's sad, it's compelling and it is completely and utterly unforgettable. Very highly recommended.
The Hustler: Other Editions
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• Some Like It Hot, The Hustler, More Catalog Fox/MGM on Blu-ray - March 14, 2011
According to information from retail giant Walmart, 20th Century Fox will follow up its Blu-ray onslaught with a wave of titles from the MGM catalog, including Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) for May 10. Fox proper will release The Hustler (50th Anniversary) ...
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