Classic Film Guide

The Sting (1973)

A very entertaining Depression Era con man film complete with twists, turns, and plenty of index finger nose rubbing. This marvelously constructed caper comedy with an outstanding cast won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Julia Phillips (along with husband Michael and Tony Bill) was the first female producer to even be nominated. Besides featuring the second & last classic pairing of acting heavyweights Paul Newman & Robert Redford, there’s Robert Shaw, several years after his Supporting Actor nomination as Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and a couple years before his best known role as Quint in Jaws (1975), Charles Durning as a crooked yet persistent cop named Snyder, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould and Charles Dierkop (among others). Even Sally Kirkland (as a stripper) and classic character William ‘Billy’ Benedict make brief appearances.

Redford plays Johnny Hooker, a small time grifter from Joliet, Illinois that needs the help of a more experienced con man and Chicago legend Henry Gondorff (Newman) to take a big score from crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw) for revenge; Lonnegan was responsible for killing Hooker’s mentor Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones). The story is laid out in sections like an old-time seven reel movie of its time setting – The Players, The Set-Up, The Hook, The Take, The Wire, The Shut-Out and The Sting – though it runs quite a bit longer than 80 minutes.

It was directed by George Roy Hill, who’d also directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and was written by David S. Ward. Hill, Ward, Edith Head (she won the last of her eight golden statuettes, out of 35 nominations!) for costume design, editor William Reynolds (The Sound of Music (1965)), and composer Marvin Hamlisch (he won all three of his Oscars that year; the other two were for The Way We Were (1973) also starring Redford) took top honors – even though he just reworked Scott Joplin’s music – as did set designers Harry Bumstead and James W. Payne. Redford received his only Oscar nomination in the acting category; the film’s cinematography and sound were also nominated. Added to the National Film Registry in 2005.

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