The Hustler appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few problems kept the picture from greatness, but overall I found the image to appear excellent.
Sharpness seemed virtually immaculate. Throughout the film, the picture remained precise and rock-solid. The only noticeable examples of mild softness occurred during the credits, as the shots lost a little tightness due to the superimposed text. Otherwise, the movie came across as crisp and detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and print flaws seemed minor. Some light edge enhancement marred the image at times, and I saw a few examples of speckles and grit. However, the various defects seemed minor given the age of the film; this was a very clean print.
Black levels came across as terrific as well. They appeared nicely deep and rich throughout the movie, and contrast was absolutely perfect. The DVD provided a very satisfying black and white tone that showed no faltering. Shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque, with no issues related to excessive darkness. I wanted to give The Hustler an “A” grade, for it looked so amazing, especially given its age. There were enough minor concerns to knock my mark down to a “B+”, but this was still a very strong transfer.
Although the DVD claimed to include a stereo soundtrack, it didn’t. When I chose “stereo” from the menu, I simply got the same monaural mix also available on the disc. It didn’t seem like a stellar piece of work, but the audio sounded good for its era. Speech was reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed clear and acceptably bright, while effects were clean and accurate. The track lacked much depth, but it still remained adequate for the period. I heard a little background noise at times, but this never became a distraction. This was a perfectly acceptable track
How did the picture and audio of this 2007 Collector’s Edition compare to those of the original DVD? The monaural audio seemed identical. The old disc included the stereo track promised here, but I didn’t miss it; I thought that mix sounded terrible, so I’m fine with the original monaural sound.
As for the picture, the discs offered different transfers but both boasted virtually the same strengths and weaknesses. I did comparisons between the two that revealed some source flaws in different places. However, the two showed similar levels of dirt – ie, very minor – and looked an awful lot alike in all other ways. You can’t go wrong with either disc in terms of movie presentation.
In terms of extras, this new CE repeats all of the elements from the old disc and adds some new ones. I’ll mark exclusives with an asterisk. If you don’t see a star, then the component also appeared on the prior release.
On DVD One, we start with an audio commentary that features a variety of participants. We hear from actors Paul Newman and Stefan Gierasch, Carol Rossen (daughter of director Robert Rossen), editor Dede Allen, assistant director Ulu Grosbard, Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel, and film historian Jeff Young. Hosted by Stuart Galbraith, this edited program uses an interview format that makes it unusual. Galbraith asks the questions, which we hear; many commentaries feature interviewers, but few become audible during the track.
I know some folks don’t like this kind of commentary, but I enjoy them, and the piece for The Hustler works very well. One warning, however: the track often digresses onto topics not directly about the film. In particular, we learn a lot about the career of director Rossen and his involvement in the “red scare” of the era. No mention of this appears anywhere else on the DVD, so these elements become particularly compelling. Otherwise, we learn some good notes about the movie and other elements, as the commentary offers an entertaining and well-developed piece.
DVD One also includes Trick Shot Analysis. If you activate this, periodically a “picture-in-picture” element will appear on-screen during the film. This shows pool expert Mike Massey as he explains the shots. We can also view these individually so they don’t interrupt the film.
What this gives us is five different clips that demonstrate how some of the movie’s trick shots were accomplished. The segments last between 25 seconds and 84 seconds for a total of three minutes and 25 seconds of footage. Unfortunately, this piece seems more “show” than “tell”. Massey doesn’t really let us know how to make the shots ourselves; we watch him do it but never quite learn the secret. That makes the piece less than useful.
As we shift to DVD Two, we find The Hustler: The Inside Story. It lasts 24 minutes and 30 seconds as it combines scenes from the film, archival materials and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from Carol Rossen, Schickel, Grosbard, Massey, actor Jerry Orbach, pocket billiards historian Charles J. Ursitti, and Willie’s Game author Stanley Cohen.
“Inside Story” offers a reasonably compelling discussion of the film. It starts with a quick bio of director Rossen and then moves through casting, the history of pool, a look at Willie Mosconi, a chat about hustling, and some material about Mosconi and Minnesota Fats. It provides a look at the movie’s premiere in Washington, DC. The show ends somewhat abruptly, and it spends surprisingly little time on the movie itself; don’t expect a full examination of the production. However, the commentary covers most of those issues, and not much repeats between the two. Instead, “Inside Story” gives us an engaging look at some other elements related to the film, and it does so well.
After this we get a featurette called *Life in the Fast Lane: Fast Eddie Felson and the Search for Greatness. This 11-minute and 50-second piece mixes movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We hear from Newman, Allen, USC School of Cinema and Television professor Dr. Drew Casper, and actors Piper Laurie and Michael Constantine. “Lane” looks at Newman’s casting, performance, research and approach to the role as well as some thoughts about the Felson character.
The focus on Newman and Felson works well. We get a mix of good details related to both areas, though the actor specifics fill most of the piece. I could live without all the film clips, but I still find a lot to like in this interesting program.
Next comes the 28-minute and four-second *Milestones in Cinema History: The Hustler. It features Allen, Constantine, Laurie, Casper and Newman. They chat about the original novel and its adaptation, Robert Rossen’s choice to shoot in black and white and his approach to the material, locations, the atmosphere on the set, thoughts about various cast and crew, performance notes, some technical issues, editing, and reactions to the flick.
While “Milestones” doesn’t present a particularly concise examination of the film, it includes plenty of interesting notes. Laurie offers some great insights related to her acting, and other reflections on the cast and crew become quite useful. The program adds more to our understanding of the flick.
*Swimming with Sharks: The Art of the Hustle runs nine minutes, 39 seconds and includes remarks from Hustler Days author RA Dyer and IPT pro player Max Eberle. We get a very brief history of pool before we learn the tricks of the hustling trade as well as a little about some famous hustlers. “Sharks” offers a neat little recap of the facts behind the film.
For the final program, *Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand lasts 43 minutes, 49 seconds. Part of A&E’s Biography series, it involves Newman, childhood friend James Stotter, biographer Elena Oumano, director Robert Wise, race car driver/instructor Bob Bondurant, actors Robert Redford, Tom Bosley, Katharine Ross, Eva Marie Saint, Joanne Woodward, Angela Lansbury, Susan Sarandon and Susan Blakely.
As one might expect from the Biography series, “Hand” presents a general overview of Newman’s life and career. Happily, it avoids a gossipy tone. Although it touches on some personal problems in Newman’s life, it sticks with a meat and potatoes approach. The show offers a nice mix of short movie clips and cool archival elements like an early TV appearance and a screentest with James Dean. “Hand” offers a good little biography.
We find a repeat of “Trick Shot Analysis” with How to Make the Shot. This just reiterates the same material, so it becomes rather redundant.
In addition to the US and Spanish trailers for The Hustler, some ads appear under *The Films of Paul Newman. We get promos for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, From the Terrace, Hombre, The Long, Hot Summer, Quintet, The Towering Inferno, What a Way to Go! and The Verdict.
Within the Still Gallery, we locate a whopping nine photos that mix production stills, candid shots from the set, and advertisements. Lastly, a *booklet provides some rudimentary notes and a few photos.
Despite my much-earlier dislike for The Hustler, I now find it to offer a pretty terrific piece of work. Buoyed by some daring storytelling and excellent acting, the film holds up well after four decades. The DVD offers surprisingly strong picture quality along with perfectly acceptable sound and a nice collection of supplements. This is a fine package that supports an excellent movie.
While this Collector’s Edition of The Hustler is a must-have for new fans, does it deserve “repurchase” status for those who already own the original DVD? Yes, if those viewers like supplements. We get a few good new pieces here, but picture and audio remain identical when compared to the prior release.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE HUSTLER