The Hustler (1961) – Paul Newman is cocky poolroom hustler “Fast” Eddie Felson, a swaggering pool shark punk who works his trade in dingy bars and seedy poolrooms, in Robert Rossen’s atmospheric adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel.
Crashing into a pit of self-pity after losing big to king of the poolroom Minnesota Fats (a cool, graceful Jackie Gleason at his most effortlessly confident), he pulls himself back with the help of an alcoholic debutante on the skids (a delicate Piper Laurie) and a shifty, calculating promoter (an icy George C. Scott in a career making performance).
The film rarely leaves the shadowy world of smoky poolroom caves—it seems to be lit by the spill from of overhead pool table lights and bar lamps—and it won well deserved Oscars for the deceptively austere art direction by Harry Horner and Gene Callahan and Eugene Shuftan’s smoky B&W cinematography. It was nominated for an additional seven awards, including best picture, director, screenplay, and acting nods for Newman, Laurie, Scott, and Gleason.
Newman returned as an older, wiser, cagier Felson 25 years later in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (reviewed on Stream On Demand here).
The two-disc DVD special edition and Blu-ray editions feature audio essay of a commentary track hosted by film historian Jeff Young, who introduces and interviews Paul Newman, Carol Rossen (director Robert Rossen’s daughter), editor Dede Allen (editor), co-star Stefan Gierasch (“Preacher”), assistant director Ulu Grosbard, and Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, the featurettes “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” and “The Hustler: The Inside Story,” and two short featurettes on the trick shots of the film, and the A&E Biography episode “Paul Newman: Hollywood’s Cool Hand.” The Blu-ray also includes the featurettes “Paul Newman At Fox,” “Jackie Gleason: The Big Man” and “The Real Hustler: Walter Tevis.”