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The Sting

The Sting

By Ben Nicholson • May 7th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Universal Pictures

Original release: December 25th, 1973
Running time: 129 minutes

Director: George Roy Hill
Writer: David S. Ward

Cast: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning

The Sting

At a young age, as well as indoctrinating me with a now unshakeable love of Fulham Football Club, my father also infected me with a love of George Roy Hill’s classic confidence caper The Sting.

I remember being at a friend’s house in my early teens and people comparing their favourite movies; alongside their offerings of Jurassic Park, Dumb And Dumber and Back To The Future was a film which none of the rest of them had even heard of. Paul who? Robert Red-what?

Whilst The Sting no longer sits atop my pile having been usurped through the years by all manner of things from Citizen Kane to Creature From The Black Lagoon, it’s perhaps had a level of longevity in my heart that others haven’t – even Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid doesn’t make me as warm and fuzzy as this film does.

When, on an episode of the naturally reverential TV show Hustle on BBC, there was a particular plotline that was heavily inspired by the film even that gave me a glow.

Still, it’d been some time since I’d last watched the film and I was eager to see whether or not it held up with the memories I had of it, or whether it was now less fun and enjoyable than it always had been before. Luckily, I can confirm that The Sting stands the test of time.

The plot sees a young grifter, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), playing small cons in 1930’s Chicago. He blows his dough gambling and has regular run-ins with a nasty cop named Snyder (Charles Durning) but when his partner, Luther, is killed after they scam a suit who works for New York big-wig Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), Hooker wants revenge. In order to get it, he teams up with Luther’s old pal, and master of the long con, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman).

The Sting

If you’ve seen every (or maybe even any) episode of Hustle or are familiar with other films and programs involving con artists then the plot twists may be readily apparent at an early stage. As a child I remember being completely and utterly wowed as my expectations were dashed and dashed again. Would Hooker get his revenge? Would they get caught out? Did Kid Twist trust him? Would lying about Snyder get Hooker in trouble with Henry? Would he find a little companionship with the girl in the café?

They were all questions that might normally have straight forward answers but in these kinds of films nothing’s as it seems.

Or at least almost nothing; Paul Neman really is that cool and the partnership with Redford is fantastic. It says a lot when two actors can be considered as a partnership when they only ever appeared in two films together (first co-starring in 1969’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, also a favourite of my dad’s). This is due to the The Stingfantastic chemistry they have on screen and the charisma they imbue into their two criminal duos.

The Sting sets them up as the master and the apprentice, though they have a very similar drive in their desire to con bad guys. Neither of them set their sights on Lonnegan as a mark due to the potential financial gain – they do it because they love it, and because they loved Luther. Whether or not such a partnership works out I’ll leave for you to find out, but sufficed to say that it’s great fun to watch them both at work.

Newman in particular makes me laugh out loud during his drunken card game with Lonnegan aboard a train from New York to Chicago. Knowing they need to ensnare the mark in their trap, Gorndoff poses as a rich businessman and buys his way into an exclusive game of poker. He proceeds to play the part completely drunk, brazen and obnoxious repeatedly belching and getting Lonnegan’s name wrong. However it just cracks me up when he presses his cards to his chest and looks around suspiciously; eyeing everyone, expecting them to be attempting to see his hand.

The setting’s also a real joy. Filmed on the backlot at Universal, 1930’s Chicago is recreated with a lovely nostalgic tinge – a canvas of browns giving the film a sepia quality – which is married perfectly with the tinkling of the piano as Marvin Hamlisch plays the famous Joplin tune “The Entertainer.” In casting my mind back, I The Stingthink perhaps this film, along with DePalma’s The Untouchables, are what inspired in me a love of prohibition era suits. If I could pull off Johnny Hooker’s look in this film, I’d be there.

Luckily, when I re-watched, it’d been long enough that I didn’t recall every aspect of the con so there were a couple of moments where I wasn’t sure what was going on, however you don’t need to be in that situation to thoroughly enjoy the film. It’s not about not knowing how they did it, or how it will end, but going along for the ride. If you’ve not seen The Sting before, or it’s been a while, I suggest you give it watch; I was certainly glad that I did.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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