Paul Newman's announcement that he's out of the acting game doesn't mean a whole lot in today's Hollywood -- the actor's last meaty film role was "Road to Perdition," five years ago. Acting is "pretty much a closed book for me," the 82-year-old said. "You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention."
Newman has been around so long and is so extended as a personality -- we probably see him most frequently on supermarket shelves -- that there's a danger of forgetting his genius. Ponder this: If we have anyone close to a new Paul Newman, he's probably in the cast of "Ocean's Thirteen." Yikes.
Anyone in need of a refresher should preorder Fox's double-disc rerelease of "The Hustler," due June 12. This was Newman's breakthrough film, a startling piece of neo-realism built around a fictional pool-hall punk, the legendary Fast Eddy Felson. George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie turned this 1961 drama into an actors showcase. Robert Rossen directed with style, daring and street smarts, in glorious black and white.
The film appears to have the same video and audio as the last Fox release, in 2002. No big deal -- there is no apparent wear and the widescreen images look decent overall, a little pale here or murky there. The DVD 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, alert but hunched over and whispering a lot of the time. 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 has this to say about Jackie Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats: "He was on time, he knew what he was doing. Jackie Gleason is about as good as it gets." Gleason 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 made most of the trick shots in the film.
Two decades later, Newman won the Oscar for reprising the role of Fast Eddie in "The Color of Money." That was a career makegood, in large part for this brash, run-the-rack performance.
Credit Fox for upgrading the title at a low price, but owners of the previous disc probably should wait for an A/V upgrade. 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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