Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on December 25, 1973
Directed by George Roy Hill
Written by David S. Ward
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, Dimitra Arliss, Robert Earl Jones, James J. Sloyan, Charles Dierkop, Lee Paul, Sally Kirkland, Arch Johnson
If seven Academy Award wins and a permanent spot on my Top 5 films list don’t convince you to give The Sting a look, then how about this: when my Dad first saw this movie in the theater, he enjoyed it so much he took me and my younger brother to see it during its re-release, knowing that even though we were kids (I was eleven, my brother was seven), we’d still appreciate it as much—and have as much fun with it—as he did. And he was right: my brother and I both thought it was great, and it’s remained a favorite of mine ever since.
Robert Redford and Paul Newman team up for the second time in this crime caper set in 1930s Chicago, where Joliet con man Redford and his partner trick an unsuspecting mark out of what they think will be pocket money; they soon discover the man was a numbers runner carrying the day’s take—all $11,000 of it—for a New York mob kingpin, played by Robert Shaw. Shaw doesn’t appreciate being swindled by two-bit grifters, and orders the pair eliminated. When the partner is killed, the revenge-minded Redford heads to Chicago, where he asks Newman’s experienced con artist for help in pulling a big con, a ‘sting’, on Shaw’s no-nonsense crime boss.
Everything, and I mean everything, blended together to beautiful perfection in this movie, from the opening old-time Universal logo right down to the final pinhole fadeout: acting, direction, story, locations, music, wardrobe, dialogue…it was all so smoothly harmonious, and resulted in a final product that couldn’t help but entertain from start to finish. Nothing in this movie was wasted; each scene and every moment meant something, or led you somewhere, and the pacing left no room for dead space. The run time somehow clocked in at 129 minutes, but it felt like half that…again, the mark of a well-made and thoroughly engaging film.
Director George Roy Hill did wonders with David S. Ward’s superbly-constructed script, filling the screen with period atmosphere and details that put you right in the middle of 1936 Chicago, and making it all seem completely authentic. The three leads—Redford, Newman, and Shaw—were of course outstanding, and played off each other so well, but their co-stars were equally impressive, bringing their characters to life in even the smallest of parts; I thought it was cool that even the bit players were given memorable lines to deliver. And let’s not forget the contribution of composer Marvin Hamlisch, who took Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano numbers and made them an integral part of the experience.
This is what filmmaking is all about, and it’s easy to see why it earned wins for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, among others. And with so many outstanding scenes, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but I think I’d go with the card game on the 20th Century Limited…a terrific bit of work from Newman and Shaw. I could go on and on with my unabashed praise for this movie—for starters, it’s smart, it’s funny, and full of surprises you’ll never see coming—but I’ll try putting it all in a nutshell by saying this: The Sting is just flat-out damn good, and is not to be missed. (10/10)