The 1961 drama about a mouthy young pool shark remains a startling piece of lowlife lit; it's arguably the finest movie the actor ever made.
Newman, who died of cancer Friday at age 83, appeared in something like 60 movies, many out on DVD and some available on Blu-ray.
The Robert Redford pairings "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" played up Newman's blue-eyed charm, to great popular success. They may be Newman's best-known movies. "The Hustler," in contrast, told its tale in stark black-and-white terms, without compromise.
"The Hustler" most recently rolled out on DVD in June 2007, via Fox Home Entertainment's double-disc edition. (Read the full review of "The Hustler.")
Recent Newman releases of note include this month's DVD and Blu-ray updates of "Cool Hand Luke"; Fox's upgraded "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," out late last spring on DVD and Blu-ray; and the mixed-bag of Warner's "The Paul Newman Collection," with the two Harper movies and "Somebody Up There Likes Me."
"The Long, Hot Summer" is a bit of a guilty pleasure, with young con man Newman squaring off with Southern patriarch Orson Welles in a mash-up of Faulker tales, primarily "The Barn Burning." Last issued more than five years ago by Fox, it's due for a rerelease.
The "Hustler" DVD set appears to have the same video and audio as the last release, in 2002. No big deal -- there is almost no apparent wear and the widescreen images look handsome overall, a little pale here or murky there. The DVD also 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, sharp but hunched over and whispering a lot. 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. Director Robert Rossen called them "kids.")
Newman pays tribute to Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats: "He was on time, he knew what he was doing. Jackie Gleason is about as good as it gets." TV star Gleason already 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 often provided the hands and the trick shots for the actor.
Rossen kept telling Newman, "Don't forget kid, it is all about character, not pool." Don't think Newman ever forgot that advice.
Check on this good roundup of Paul Newman's best sports movies on the blog Sports Couch Potato.