The Hustler: Deluxe 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Book Review
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Mono, French DTS 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1,
- Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
- Region: A
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Blu-ray Release Date: May 17, 2011
- List Price: $34.98
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
By way of full disclosure, I was a pretty good pool player in college but certainly not at the skill level of this movie’s shooters. The Hustler, a paean to pool playing, has been reissued in this 50th anniversary deluxe Blu-ray edition from 20th Century Fox. The Hustler is a dark-side view of what a misspent youth can lead to. The inimitable Jackie Gleason plays “Minnesota Fats,” the perennial champion, and Paul Newman is his challenger, the youthful “ Fast” Eddie Felson. The exceptional supporting cast features George C. Scott as the “banker” Bert Gordon, and Piper Laurie as Eddie’s girl, Sarah Packard, all superbly directed by Robert Rossen. While The Hustler’s outcome is neither surprising nor unwelcome, the journey to that outcome is continually fascinating. The rise and fall, and rise again of a sports hero is a familiar tale that never fails to grab the audience when it is told as well as this one is.
The well-shot interiors of 50’s era pool halls, filled with smoke and dim lighting except for the tables themselves, put viewers in the heart of the action. The camera work is inspired making a game of pool seem like the pulse-pounding sport that it definitely is not. The sharpness and contrast of this wide-screen presentation is simply outstanding. On first viewing, you would be hard pressed to identify this as a 50 year old film. It is certainly obvious why this picture won the Oscars for Best Black-and-White Art Direction and Cinematography.
One of the obvious strengths of this film is its bouncy, jazzy soundtrack by former Paul “Pops” Whiteman big-band arranger, Kenyon Hopkins. It fits the action, the sets, and the characters, like a glove. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does justice to the original mono recording and the dialog is clear as a bell. No surround effects, of course, so billiard balls are not bouncing around the room but remain on the table where they belong.
Finally, a set of extras that lives up to the “deluxe” billing. The Newman biopics alone would have been worth the price of admission. Throwing in Gleason and then more features on the “sweet science” of playing pool, this sets the supplemental materials bar very, very high. Be warned that the trick shots take lots and lots of practice!
- Commentaries by Paul Newman, Film Historian Jeff Young, and Film Critic Richard Schickel
- Several featurettes:
- Paul Newman at Fox
- Jackie Gleason: The Big Man
- The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis
- Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness
- Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler
- Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle
- The Hustler: The Inside Story
- Paul Newman as Seen on “Biography” on the A&E Network
- Trick Shot Analysis by Mike Massey
- How to Make the Shot
- Theatrical Trailers
- Deluxe Booklet
The Definitive Word
Some critics have considered The Hustler to be the best sports movie ever made. Whether or not all viewers would agree with this critical consensus, it certainly belongs up there with other iconic sports films like Pride of the Yankees, and Chariots of Fire. It should not be lost on first-timers to this film, that Jake LaMotta, the inspiration for Raging Bull tosses in a cameo as a bartender. The Hustler’s success stems directly from the synergy of a powerhouse cast and director, extraordinary cinematography, and spot-on film score. Many of Paul Newman’s films could be considered self-recommending, but this breakthrough picture is something special. In it, he and his colleagues inhabit their roles like second skins and make this not just a movie about pool-playing or hustling, but about the essentials of life. Not all movies age well after 50, but this one, like fine wine, just gets better and better. The Hustler was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost out to West Side Story. After seeing this beautiful Blu-ray reissue, I am no longer sure that the Academy got it right that year.
Additional Screen Captures