Home / DVD Review: Paul Newman as The Hustler – Dark, Hip, Classic

DVD Review: Paul Newman as The Hustler – Dark, Hip, Classic

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Paul Newman has been around so long and is so extended as a personality — we see him most frequently on salad dressing labels — that there's a danger of forgetting his genius.

Now comes news that he's out of the acting game at age 82. Ponder this: If there's anyone close to being a new Paul Newman, he's probably in the cast of Ocean's Thirteen. Yikes.

Anyone in need of a refresher should queue up for Fox's double-disc re-release of The Hustler. This was Newman's breakthrough film, a startling piece of lowlife lit built around the fictional pool-shooting punk, Fast Eddy Felson. George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason, and Piper Laurie turned this 1961 drama into an actors' showcase. Every other line found its way into the nation's pool halls and stayed there for decades.

Robert Rossen directed with style, daring, and street smarts, in striking black and white.

This DVD appears to have the same video and audio as the last Fox release, in 2002. No big deal — there is almost no apparent wear and the widescreen images look handsome overall, a little pale here or murky there. The DVD also ports over the extras from '02, including a group commentary in which Newman participates.

New to the set are three featurettes about the movie, actors, and pool shots. Newman is interviewed on camera, sharp but hunched over and hoarsely whispering a lot. The heavy lifting is done by Piper Laurie, who has excellent recall of the New York production. (Newman and Laurie both were in their mid-30s. Rossen called them "kids.")

Newman pays tribute to Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats: "He was on time, he knew what he was doing. Jackie Gleason is about as good as it gets." The TV comic already was an ace pool player. Newman claimed he'd never held a stick, but was coached up in no time by billiards legend Willie Mosconi, who often provided the hands and the trick shots for the actor.

Two decades later, of course, Newman won the Oscar for reprising the role of Fast Eddie in The Color of Money. Score that one a career makegood, in large part for this brash, run-the-rack performance.

Fox deserves credit for upgrading the title at a fair price, but owners of the previous disc probably should wait for re-rack on the A/V. There is a fair amount of repetition in the shotgun marriage of old and new extras.

Fox also brings to market a similar treatment of The Verdict (1982).

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