Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)

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In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

This turns out to be second George Roy Hill movie I saw, whom I didn’t know was born in Minnesota. The first film of his I saw was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, in fact, it’s the pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman that was the main draw for me as they have a great rapport together. I could see why this movie was popular, a box office hit and a critical darling, even winning three out of ten nominations: Best Picture Oscar, Best Director and Best Screenplay for David S. Ward. It’s a fun and entertaining caper movie set in Chicago during the Great Depression.

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Despite the light and humorous tone, there’s some emotional and moving scenes, especially when the main lead lost his good friend who’s killed by the mob, Doyle Lonnegan. That incident leads to the two leads on a vengeful quest in conning the mob boss out of his money. Redford plays a small time grifter Johnny Hooker who teams up a once-great conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the big con. Given the 11-year difference, it make sense that Newman is playing more of a mentor role to Redford.

The plot is a bit complicated, but not overly convoluted that you’re too confused to enjoy the movie. It’s quite fun to see how they plan each trick, whilst still keeping it unpredictable. Hill broke the film down in chapters with its own title, i.e. The Set Up, The Wire, etc. which I find to be quite unique in and of itself. It’s worth noting too that the movie’s two leads are NOT good guys, they’re con artists after all, but yet you’re rooting for them right from the start. The pairing of Redford/Newman are played down a bit here compared to Butch Cassidy. In fact, we don’t even see Newman until after about 25 minutes in and he has less screen time overall than Redford. His intro of him waking up with a huge hangover is pretty fun to watch though.

The film focuses more on the tricky scheme itself that involves a great ensemble of supporting actors. There are many familiar faces, i.e. Robert Shaw (most remembered for From Russia With Love) who plays another icy villain here. The guy who played Luther looked strangely familiar to me as he looked so much like James Earl Jones, sure enough that’s his father, Robert Earl Jones. Of course there’s also Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton on one of my fave 90s shows MacGyver) as the FBI agent.

TheSting_stills

The Sting‘s got everything going for it in terms of entertainment value. First-rate production quality down to those sharp suits, fast-paced direction, good acting by the two great-looking leads, AND it’s got a fabulous featuring ragtime music by Scott Joplin. It’s a hugely popular song I’ve heard time and time again, but I had no idea it was featured in this film. Apparently composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tune The Entertainer for the film and it made Joplin’s music popular again in the 70s and beyond.

I’m glad I finally saw this one. I appreciate the fact that Hill didn’t make this caper a dark, brooding and somber affair like most crime thrillers. No unnecessary romance to over-complicate matters either, thank goodness. There’s not too many action scenes here, but there are definitely some tense and surprising moments that got me on the edge of my seat. Overall it’s a fun, thrilling and suspenseful ride from start to finish. That said, I wouldn’t call The Sting a masterpiece of cinema or anything. It’s more of a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite make a lingering emotional impact afterwards, but a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment I certainly don’t mind seeing again.

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Have you seen The Sting? Let me know what you think!

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41 thoughts on “Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)

  1. Ted S.

    I haven’t seen this movie in ages but yeah it’s a great fun caper. Sodenberg burrowed a lot of elements from this film for his Ocean’s 11. I wish studios would release more films like this today but of course modern audiences have short attention span, if a movie doesn’t contain some kind of action, they won’t like it.

    1. Hey Ted, totally agree… there certainly should be more movies like this. Actually, I think The Imitation Game from this year comes close, although it’s more drama but it still has it’s comic and suspenseful moments.

      1. Interesting to see you compare this one to The Imitation Game, Becky. I don’t see that at all, as the tone, story and emotional involvement are so different. But I suppose yeah, it does have a mix of comic and suspenseful moment.

    2. Hi Ted! Oh yeah I could see Ocean’s 11 borrowing a lot from this, esp considering how much Pitt looks like a young Redford. Yeah I wish there more lighthearted movies like this one released now, but seems like most crime thrillers these days have too much action and way too violent and dark.

  2. The Sting is absolutely fantastic. It richly deserves its place on many of the standard critics’ best-ever lists because it is so much fun, so engaging, and technically great.
    A film which created the template for so much which came after.

    1. Hey there Paul! It really is an entertaining movie that keeps my interest from start to finish. I like how the plot unfolds and the use of chapters is unusual, but in a good way.

  3. Ah! The Sting is one of my favorites that I used to watch with my dad a lot. Such a fun movie, and I love the period setting. Like you say, the music is a standout. I had no idea that Luther with Darth Vader’s father, ha ha! I would agree that the film is not the deepest thing out there, but it sure is fun.
    btw, posted up my blindspot list for next year!

    1. Hi Melissa! Oh I could see this would be a fun one to see with your dad. I tried to get my hubby to see it last night but he was too busy. Ahah yeah, Luther was Darth Vader’s dad indeed, he has the same booming voice too!

      I just commented on your Blindspot list, great stuff!

  4. Hooker and Gondorff are at the train station. They’re going to put the hook into Lonegan on the train via a poker game. As Lonegan crosses the rail station with his goons, Hooker spies him.

    Hooker: He’s not so tough…
    Gondorff: Neither are we…

    This film had so many memorable lines, that I can still recall from memory. What I can’t recall is the last time I saw the film. But it is a true classic.

    Thanks for the review, and bringing this film to mind once more.
    Happy new year to you as well…

    JMM

    1. Hello Mike! Oh that’s a GREAT quote indeed, and I also like the part when Hooker was watching Gondorff playing cards.

      Gondorff: Just worry about your end, Kid
      Hooker: If I ever get to it

      There are some fun lines here, I agree.

      Happy New Year Mike!

  5. Hey Ruth. I really enjoyed reading your review. It’s funny, this is a movie I have probably seen but only in bits and pieces. I don’t think I’ve ever watched it all the way through in one sitting. For some reason it just never really resonated with me. But to be fair I haven’t tried to watch it in years. You really have my curiosity peaked.

    1. Hi Keith! I think it’s a fun way to spend 2-hours on an afternoon. It’s a entertaining caper, not too deep or emotionally-involving but fun nonetheless. The two leads are great and they sure look cool as a pair of cons!

  6. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Very nicely done!

    One of the great period con films of the 1970s. With equal attention paid to the characters, plot and details. Though Newman and Redford could get audiences reading names from a phone book! Robert Shaw excels and Dana Elcar juggles possibilities with a knowing touch.

    With just enough back story to hold the plot as the cast does what they do so well. Big kudos to Charles Durning, just starting out. And his squeaking shoes. Also the interplay between Harold Gould, new recruits and always under rated, Ray Walston is polished and first rate.

    Moving thing along through many Paramount back lots. While giving the fell of an old Warner Brothers gangster film. To a finish that is both surprising and satisfying!

    1. Hello Kevin! “…Newman and Redford could get audiences reading names from a phone book” Ahah very true, both are so nice to look at AND charismatic to boot! I like the fact that it’s suspenseful but not too somber or dark, and that finale is definitely surprising AND satisfying.

  7. I really liked this more than I expected to. It’s not perfect, and should not have won the Oscar that year, but Redford is exceptional (such an inspired Oscar nom) and the whole feel of the film is just fun and fresh. Glad you liked this one!

    Now onto next year’s Blind Spots!!!

    1. Hi Drew! I don’t know what other movies were nominated that year but yeah, this seems too light to win Best Picture. Still it’s an enjoyable caper. Yes, on to next year’s Blindspot!!

  8. I’ve been wanting to see this film as I also want to see Butch Cassidy but it’s never on TV. Hopefully, I will do that and The Sting sometime next year or in 2016.

  9. This is a really fun movie. It’s an odd Best Picture for my money, though. I can’t think of a solid way to improve on it, but it feels so insubstantial in a lot of ways. It’s an extended goof, sort of a long joke that happens to be perfectly executed.

    Still, it’s a hell of a fine movie.

    1. Yeah I think it’s a bit odd pick for Best Picture, but I don’t know what else were nominated that year. “It’s an extended goof, sort of a long joke that happens to be perfectly executed.” Ha, I think that’s a good way of describing it, but it just works!

  10. Great review! I’ve seen this one once before. I of course liked the Scott Joplin tune. I also really enjoyed the chemistry between Redford and Newman. Shaw was great too. But you’re right it’s a light hearted caper, and not too dark or deep.

  11. A perfectly executed piece of pop entertainment. Robert Shaw as usual steals the film as the heavy. All the great character actors in it make the film sort of a Who’s Who in film. The plot uses real scams in a dramatic story with just the right touch of humor. Everybody enjoyed getting suckered by this film.

    1. Shaw is one of those actors who make an impression just by being still with that inimitable glare. There are moments in the film where he just lost it and it makes for a hilarious watch.

  12. I saw this for the first time this year and came to the conclusion that it probably would have had more punch when it was released, when we weren’t so used to seeing con movies with twists and turns. That said, it’s still a great film.

    Happy New Year Ruth!

    1. Hi Chris! Sorry for the tardy response, I try to do better this year in replying comments 😀 I always wonder how I’d feel when I see a certain film when it was released. I might feel differently but maybe not, who knows. But yeah, it’s a fun film for sure!

  13. Glad you liked it, Ruth. I agree it’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s a great piece of entertainment and a perfectly decent Best Picture winner.

  14. Tom

    Can’t argue with that pairing — Redford with Newman — at all Ruth. I have to give these things a shot. I think Butch Cassidy I have in higher priority, but all these look like tons of fun. Nice work.

  15. Glad you saw and enjoyed this one too! I was introduced to it a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can see aspects of this film in today’s “twisty turny” thrillers. The notion of ‘the twist in the plot’ isn’t something new and has been done for years and years.

    The Sting is a GREAT film.

    1. Hi Jaina! I think the lighter tone and use of chapters here make the ‘twisty turny’ plot more digestible. It’s just a lot of fun from start to finish.

  16. Pingback: 2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014 |

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