DVD Review: The Hustler

20th Century Fox
Movie •••• Picture ••••½ Sound •••½ Extras •••
Robert Rossen's brilliant The Hustler (1961) won Oscars for art direction and cinematography. It did so by delivering richly textured, subtly shaded, atmospheric black-and-white images of American pool-hall squalor, all of which plays beautifully on this sharp, near-flawless transfer. You can practically smell the dusty rooms and the all-night greasy spoons. The picture goes a little soft toward the end (probably due to lesser source materials), but by that time the die has been cast. Both the stereo and the original mono soundtracks are as crisp and clean as possible, given the time period. The crack of the balls on the break is potent and familiar.

This two-disc set features an ambitious collection of extras that occasionally falls short of the mark. A disjointed commentary cobbles together the memories of seven cast and crew members (and their relatives), but it delivers only a few memorable stories. A disappointing trick-shot analysis by pool expert Mike Massey can be watched as a pop-up within the film or separately, but it describes what we see onscreen without actually explaining how it's done. An episode of A&E's Biography tells the life story of star Paul Newman in a surprisingly even-toned way. Four original documentaries, totaling about 75 minutes, do a professional job of covering every aspect of the production and add some welcome insight into real-life pool hustlers. [NR] English, Dolby Digital stereo and mono; French and Spanish, Dolby Digital mono; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer discs.

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