In 1961 Paul Newman secured his place on the A-List with an Oscar-nominated turn in The Hustler. He tears up the screen as Fast Eddie Felson, a man sure of victory in the pool hall but in every other way is shrouded in defeat. So indelible was his performance (under the direction of Robert Rossen) that Martin Scorsese asked him to reprise the role in The Color Of Money 25 years later.
Aim And Shoot
It's a treat to listen to Paul Newman reflecting on one of the most important junctures of his career in a spellbinding batch of extras spread across two discs. During a patchwork commentary for the film, he explains that The Hustler almost passed him by as he was supposed to be filming another project with Elizabeth Taylor, but she had fallen ill. Rossen's editor Dede Allen also contributes lots of interesting trivia; for instance battling the studio to keep the pre-credit sequence and the McCarthy witch-hunts that threatened to fracture working relationships.
In the featurette Life In The Fast Lane, Newman remembers venturing into the secret world of New York pool halls to "sniff around" - preparation that initially had him feeling out of place. "I never got be a good player," he says, "but I got to be okay." It's a neat portrait of an actor ‘faking it' with aplomb and co-star Piper Laurie (Sarah) pops up too, recalling how extraordinarily tough it was to deliver lines to her leading man while looking into those baby blues...
Newman offers more confirmation of his lacklustre pool skills in a half-hour look at the making of the film. With typically good humour, he admits to getting hustled behind the scenes by onscreen rival Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats). Aside from the cheeky anecdotes, there's more in-depth analysis of how the film was conceived, developed and executed. Rossen and co-writer Sidney Carroll first had to flesh out a rather lightweight book by Walter Tevis, fob off Frank Sinatra (who fancied the part of Eddie) and then butt heads with Laurie on the set (always offering an opinion for how a scene should play). She gives her side of the story here and Gleason helpfully backs her up.
Working the Angles
Complementing that documentary is another one called The Inside Story. It includes a nod to cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan who won an Oscar for his arresting black-and-white visuals (when everyone else was switching to colour) and lifts the veil on his pioneering techniques with lighting and mirrors. Later on there's an examination of how art imitates life - and vice versa - when, just after its release, stories circulated that The Hustler was based on real people.
Swimming With Sharks takes an up-close look at what's called "the sport of rogues". Pool expert RA Dyer explains that "the romance of pool is about freedom and it's about danger" with other experts chiming in to reveal the secrets of poolroom hustlers and how to recognise them. Elsewhere the World Champion Trick Shot artist Mike Massey talks us through some of Fast Eddie's best moves (on disc one) before demonstrating the shots himself (on disc two).
Newman fans are treated to a 45 minute biography of the legendary actor that gives the lowdown on his family background before tackling his movies. It includes rarely seen photos, audition footage, plus new and old interviews with the man himself. On a talk show recorded in 1958 he talks laughingly about getting thrown off the football squad after a barroom fight and his subsequent decision to take up acting. As the documentary gets deeper into his career, there are interviews with the likes of Robert Redford and Eva Marie Saint.
A gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, the original trailer for The Hustler (and its Spanish equivalent!) complete the bonus package. True movie buffs won't regret dipping into their pockets for this one.