The Sting (1973 USA)

the-sting-graphicFew films can draw me in and indulge me on repeat viewings like The Sting does. Brilliantly directed by George Roy Hill, the film runs at a relaxed pace for a while during which it introduces each one of its characters. But once the board is set, it starts throwing one twist after another which continues until the very end. This stylishly creates a place in space and time that may never existed but it feels real. It deserved its haul of seven Academy awards.

At first sight, The Sting appears to be nothing more than a television movie. It is entirely plot-driven with no real stand out characters or personalities. What makes the film work is excellent production design and a delightfully clever plot filled with many surprises. The film is feather-weight emotionally, but the depth of the “con” and the way it is fashioned by screenwriter David Ward leaves you with a pleasant, feel-good experience.

This is more Redford’s film than Newman’s. He is more energetic and steely than his partner. The pair reunited with George Roy Hill, director of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The legendary actors were more flesh and blood in that film, but here, they are merely players who carry the story along. With lesser actors, The Sting may have been a forgettable piece of work. Redford does all of the dirty work after Newman’s initial “hook”, but the omniscient presence of Newman, as big-time grifter “Henry Gondorff” exists throughout.

the-stingA mysterious gloved character, a crooked cop, the FBI, and a seemingly bigger con-man “Doyle Lonnegan” (played by the late, great Robert Shaw) are some of the players who are involved in some events that seem to be manipulated by an unseen force. Is Newman as good as he claims in trying to clean out Shaw? We’ll see. Paul Newman gives us an acceptable face of crime. We don’t usually think of Paul Newman as the king of crime, but he has more cinematic criminal form than Marlon Brando. The film is shot simply by Hill. No tricky angles or contrived camera movements are used. The action takes place simply in front of us. The production design by Henry Bumstead and James Payne recreates old-time Chicago through the use of built sets, matte paintings of a smaller sky-line, and some location shots.

It gives the film an almost artificial look which is fitting considering it is a direct homage to the 1930’s and the gangster pictures that so dominated that decade. The story is even furthered by title pages describing “the set-up, the hook, and the sting”. They are turned like pages in a book, adding a drop of elegance to a crooked world. An iris is even employed in some scenes. This is definitely lightweight entertainment. It does not provoke much thought or insight into what is happening on screen. Fun is the word for this amusing little film that depicts a masterful plan for a big steal which would be impossible to pull off today. This caper and con classic doesn’t just sting, it also floats like a butterfly.

(Original Caption) Robert Redford (left) and Paul Newman shown in scene from The Sting, which won the

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