The Sting (1973)


The Sting Storyline

It’s September, 1936. The place: Joliet, Illinois. Luther Coleman, his apprentice Johnny Hooker, and their underling Joe Erie’s latest swindle has netted them $11,000, enough for an aged Luther to contemplate retiring from grifting. They are unaware however that that money belonged to ruthless racketeer Doyle Lonnegan, whose thugs kill Luther in retaliation. Before Luther’s death, he suggested to Hooker that he contact Henry Gondorff, his old friend in Chicago to learn the art of the big con. Hooker does contact Gondorff, who has retired after being burned in his last big con. Gondorff decides to come out of retirement solely to help Hooker get back at Lonnegan for Luther’s murder. In pulling off the big con, Gondorff and Hooker require the assistance of a number of Gondorff’s old associates as well as a number of small time grifters. In the latter group includes Erie, who wants to do his small part in revenging Luther’s death. Beyond Lonnegan or anyone else finding out about the con, there are many potential obstacles in pulling off the sting, such as a controlling and overly cautious Lonnegan wanting to do things his own way, and a number of people chasing after Hooker, including a crooked Joliet vice cop named Snyder, Lonnegan’s lower level thugs and a hired hit man. Through the process, Hooker, who sees himself as being a wheeler dealer, may come across a better deal than that provided to him by Gondorff.

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The Sting Movie Reviews

Quite good–especially the first time you see it.

It’s been decades since I’ve seen “The Sting” and I decided to try watching it again. As a result of having seen it a couple times, I have some impressions I might not have had the first time. First, the film is awfully pretty–with some of the nicest titles and intertitle cards I’ve seen. It also is well-constructed–with several plots being interwoven quite well–a tribute to the director, George Roy Hill. The acting is quite nice and it’s interesting that the film won seven Oscars–and none of them for acting! And, just like the first time, the Scott Joplin tunes are terrific. The only real negative is that because I’d seen it before, there were no surprises–and surprises are what makes this such an enjoyable film. Without the surprise, the film lacks something the second time–something that isn’t true for all films. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, for example, seems to get better each time you see it–but “The Sting” does because the movie is so dependent of surprise plot twists.

The bottom line is that for first-time viewers, the film is very hard to beat and it’s easy to see how this $5.5 million dollar film brought in over $159,000,000 domestically–making this is mega-mega blockbuster. It’s an exceptional film in every way.

Lovable roguish classic

THE STING is a fine 1930s-set comedy adventure film re-teaming Paul Newman and Robert Redford after the runaway success of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. I found it more enjoyable than their previous outing thanks to the intense storyline, which is set in the world of gangsters and gambling and features oodles of suspense and tension as the two men attempt to pull off one of the biggest scams in history.

The thing that becomes quickly apparent when watching THE STING is just how well written it is. The script is very clever without being obnoxiously so and the involving opening set-piece is a fine example of this. Newman plays in support here and has less screen time than I expected, but the film belongs to Redford anyway and he’s a delight, the best I’ve seen him. The third player in the thing is Robert Shaw, who brings level of quiet intensity to the picture that makes his character even more imposing than the famous henchman role he essayed in FROM Russia WITH LOVE.

Although THE STING has a long running time, not a moment of it feels slow or boring. Instead it keeps moving through interesting set-pieces, mainly focused on gambling (which is a fascinating cinematic subject matter in the right hands) but also including a number of decent foot chases too. Everything builds to a classic climax that rounds off an excellent film overall.

Working The Big Con

The Sting, evoking a bygone era of gangsters and con men, was the deserved Best Picture of 1973. The Sting won that Oscar plus a whole flock of technical awards. One award it didn’t win was for Robert Redford as Best Actor.

That must have been tough for the Academy voters because to single out Redford as opposed to Paul Newman must have felt a bit unjust. For though Newman was nominated many times over his career and finally did win for The Color of Money, did not get a nomination for The Sting.

Robert Redford is a small time grifter who while working a bait and switch street con takes off a numbers runner carrying the weekly take. The orders come down from the head man himself, Irish-American gangster Robert Shaw to kill those who did this as an example.

Redford’s mentor, Robert Earl Jones, is in fact killed, mainly because Redford starts spending a lot of that newly acquired loot that tips them off. Redford wants revenge so he looks up big time con man Paul Newman who himself is dodging law enforcement as is Redford also.

They work the big con on Shaw and it’s a beauty. The scheme they have is something to behold. They also have to do a couple of improvisations on the fly that lend a few twists to the scheme.

The costumes and sets really do evoke Chicago of the Thirties and director George Roy Hill assembles a great cast to support Newman and Redford. My favorite in the whole group is Charles Durning, who plays the brutally corrupt, but essentially dumb cop from Joliet who nearly gums up the works and has to be dealt with.

Special mention should also go to Robert Shaw. He’s got a difficult part, maybe the most difficult in the film. He’s not stupid, he would not have gotten to the top of the rackets if he was. But he also has to show that hint of human weakness that Newman, Redford, and the whole mob they assemble that makes him vulnerable to the con.

During the sixties and seventies Robert Shaw was really coming into his own as a player, getting more and more acclaim for his work. His early death was a real tragedy, there was so much more he could have been doing.

Can’t also forget another co-star in this film, the ragtime music of Scott Joplin that was used to score The Sting. It probably is what most people remember about The Sting. Music from the Theodore Roosevelt era, scoring a film set in the Franklin Roosevelt era made while Nixon was president. Strange, but it actually works.

The Sting still works wonders today.