Paul Newman is one of those actors who can practically do no wrong. I was saddened by his death last year because while he did like the occasional drink he was one of the last classic actors with a good moral standing. His commitment to his wife is a rarity found in Hollywood and his Caesar dressing is still the best. To top it all off, this philanthropist was electrifying on screen. And while THE HUSTLER did create some suspense and action within the game of pool, it owes most of the credit to Mr. Newman.
The story is fairly simple. A young pool player by the name of Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) hustles to make a living. But his dream is to be the best and in order to do that he must beat the best. Though he may have the skills he lacks discipline and character. Eddie’s self-destructive attitude and inability to know when to quit is maddening but with the help of a new love Sarah (Piper Laurie) with some chaos of her own, he will hopefully find his way.
The film opens up almost immediately with Eddie challenging Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) to a game of pool for $20 a ball. As the hours wear on the dollar value escalates and the great pool shots are overcome by the intensity and anticipation of what will surely be Eddie’s demise. They are both on top of their game but Eddie actually seems to be the underdog with more skill. The frustration and nerves set in when you know after 24 plus straight hours of pool and Eddie is up 10 grand that he will not know when to quit. When the scene was all said and done I was surprised to see nearly 40 minutes of the film had already passed and it felt seamless.
Unfortunately the next 30 minutes of the film feel like an eternity that creates a lull nearly unbearable to keep your attention. While the time spent with Eddie and Sarah are important to understand the character arc and appreciate their conclusion, I believe it could have been done in a more entertaining fashion. Nonetheless everyone is phenomenal in their performances. George C. Scott plays the untrustworthy money man to sleazy excellence while Jackie Gleeson puts the perfect touch on one of his best and only dramatic performances as the calm collected pool shark. Still it all comes down to Newman’s charisma and smile as we immediately root for his talented but undisciplined Fast Eddie.
Nominated for nine Academy Awards including Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress and a couple of Supporting Actors, THE HUSTLER did manage to win Best Art Direction Black and White and Best Cinematography Black and White. The film isn’t only about pool but about character. THE HUSTLER is a solid picture that highlights Paul Newman’s magnetic force.
Video: (2.35:1 Widescreen) The black and white transfer looks polished and well groomed.
Audio: (5.1 DTS-HD MA) The sound is quiet and weak, no doubt due to the time it was recorded and not the fault of the Blu-ray. The film would have benefited from utilizing a musical score.
Commentary by Paul Newman, Carol Rossen, Dede Allen, Stefan Gierasch, Ulu Grosbard, Richard Schickel & Jeff Young: This is a compilation of several past clips from all the people named spliced together and played during the film. It’s still informative but not as exciting since this is put together in a non-traditional format. A lot of it is repeated in the rest of the features.
Paul Newman at Fox (27:11): People loved Newman and everyone sings his praise in this informative featurette about the actor’s early career.
Jackie Gleason: The Big Man (12:04): Everyone discussed the talent of Gleason and his impressive dramatic turn after being known for so much comedy.
The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis (18:55): The children of author Walter Tevis, who wrote the book from which the film is based, discuss their father’s life using some old footage and interview recordings from him.
Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness (11:49): A deeper look at the character Fast Eddie and Paul Newman’s portrayal.
Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler (28:04): This goes more into the choices made to film and edit the picture and the overall impact that had. This is definitely the more making of the entire picture as it covers all aspects of the film.
Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle (9:38): This is an interesting insight at gambling, hustling and trick shots when it comes to pool.
The Hustler: The Inside Story (24:32): More of an inside scoop about making the film such as who actually did the pool playing and how some pool players thought the film was about them.
Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand (43:44): Different from the previous featurette about Newman this is an even more extensive look at actors entire career. Famous actors and filmmakers all talk about the greatness that is Paul Newman. This is a television special that covers inside the actor’s personal and professional life. This is a must for any fan of the actor.
Trick Shot Analysis by Mike Massey (13:51): Five scenes from the film where trick pool shots are used while pool pro Massey gives commentary.
How to Make the Shot with Mike Massey (3:41): A hands on set up of five trick shots seen in the film and how they can be achieved. I will be sure to practice these to hustle impress my friends.
Theatrical Trailer: (English and Spanish)