The Hustler: Collector’s Edition

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

In the world of poolhalls, you either get hustled or you do the hustling, there isn’t much grey space in between. Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is a hustler to his core, a man with immense confidence, dynamic charisma, and an excellent game to back it all up. So while he runs his mouth and aims for the heavens, his skills are so impressive, he rarely misses his goals. He has run entire halls full of players for every dollar on them, with a hustle that fools even the sharper of the onlookers. As he moves through towns and looks for new ways to earn some cash & improve his reputation however, Felson always has one topic on his mind. He wants to play against the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), the greatest pool player to ever chalk up a stick, though Eddie is convinced he can defeat the man. But mere victory isn’t enough for Eddie, as he wants to take ten thousand dollars from Fats, which would prove he was easily the better of the two players, as well as gain him some serious cash. But has he bitten off more than he can chew, or will his matches against Fats bring him some true personal satisfaction?

I know the term “classic” is thrown around a lot, but I truly think The Hustler is a classic, if not an American cinematic masterpiece. I mean, I can watch this and just marvel at the black & white visuals, watch the character development unfold, or of course, watch as the cast delivers some outstanding performances. The film uses pool as Fast Eddie Felson’s outlet, but his persona could be related to by just about anyone, whether you’re a car salesman, foundry worker, or even a stay at home mom. The competitive drive lingers within us all, but some of us have a stronger band than others and of course, Eddie’s runs a mile wide. Newman is able to pull off Felson’s charismatic presence to sheer perfection, from his flowing confidence to his inner demons, simply an amazing overall effort. I found the pool scenes to be well planned and executed also, especially in terms of editing & overall movement, as the tone is just as it should be, I think. This new two disc Collector’s Edition includes all the previous supplements plus some new ones, so for fans, an upgrade depends on your interest in new bonus materials.

In this motion picture, Paul Newman is Fast Eddie Felson and I don’t mean just in performance, as he becomes Eddie on screen. I’ve seen a lot of top notch performances, but not all of them are as dynamic and realistic as this one, as you never doubt Newman for a second. He walks into the poolhall and he owns the place, no doubt about it. His confidence is natural and comes across as such, even when the odds pile up against him, Eddie remains poised to rebound and Newman captures that persona to perfection. I know Newman has given countless memorable turns, but I think this ranks as one of his finest, if not his very best performance. Other films with Newman include Hombre, The Color of Money, The Verdict, The Hudsucker Proxy, Slap Shot, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The cast also includes Jackie Gleason (Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Toy), Piper Laurie (Children of a Lesser God, Return to Oz), and George C. Scott (The Flim-Flam Man, They Might Be Giants).

Video: How does it look?

The Hustler is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I knew this would be a top notch transfer, but Fox has rolled out a dynamic and highly impressive effort here, this is simply fantastic work. The print has minimal flaws, with even minor nicks a rarity and that enhances the visuals to great ends, of course. The glorious black & white image is balanced to perfection, with bright whites and deep, well refined black levels. This is one of the best black & white transfers I’ve seen to date and that’s a real compliment, as we’ve seen a number of excellent black & white DVD treatments.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio here is rather basic, but remains effective and since the film has a reserved presence, the lack of surround use is not missed. The poolhall sounds come across well, with no harshness or other defects, but I do think some of the atmosphere is gone, as we don’t get as immersed as we would in a more recent audio track. Even so, I think the material is well handled and while you won’t be dazzled, it is a solid all around presentation. The jazz score opens up the audio at times, but aside from that, don’t expect much else here. This disc also includes a mono option, Spanish and French language tracks, and subtitles in English & Spanish.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The new stuff here is a trio of featurettes, all of which are worth a look. We have a special look at Eddie Felson, a general piece on the film’s place in cinematic history, and of course, a glimpse at pool hustling’s ins & outs. None are exceptional, but each provides some worthwhile moments and for fans, plenty of information to soak in. Enough to warrant a second purchase? That all depends on how valuable supplements are, some love featurettes, while others only concern themselves with the film itself. The rest of the goodies from the previous are intact however, so fans should be pleased about that. The original extras start off with an audio commentary track, in which the comments of several participants have been skillfully edited together to form a cohesive, well crafted overall session. You’ll hear from Paul Newman, the film’s editor, the director’s daughter, Richard Shickel, a Time magazine film critic, and a couple other folks, as they discuss The Hustler. I found Newman’s comments to be the best of the lot, but this is an all around solid commentary, to be sure. Next is The Hustler: The Inside Story, a newly created retrospective featurette and while it runs shorter than I’d like at around half an hour, it is still well worth a look. This piece takes us behind the scenes of how Newman learned to shoot pool for the film and we even get a look at the real life Minnesota Fats, which is kind of cool and gives some depth to the featurette. This disc also includes two brief featurettes on trick shots, some still photos, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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