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.

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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!

Weekend Roundup: Catching up on Downton Abbey + a ho-hum Hitchcock film

Happy Bastille Day Monday everyone!

Man now I wish I were back in Paris again [sigh] So how’s your weekend? It was another glorious Summer day on Sunday, ahead of the Polar Vortex (or you can call it the cool Canadian air) that keeps temps only in the 60s today. Yep, I actually have to wear a light jacket today, heh.

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I guess he has every reason to feel triumphant

So it seems that a lot of you saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this weekend. ‘Apes’ Goes Bananas says Box Office Mojo [though we never saw any of the apes actually ate a banana], and the mojo is definitely with director Matt Reeves as the sequel brought in a whopping $73 mil domestically, and it’s already over $100 mil internationally. It’s the only tentpole film opening this weekend so basically there’s no competition. Besides who in the right mind would want to see those dreadful robots over these intelligent & emotive apes?

Well, if you’ve read my review then you already know I LOVED it. I actually don’t mind renting that again when it’s out on Blu-ray, maybe a double feature w/ the 2011 reboot. I sure hope Reeves will be back at the helm for the third film, man it’s poised to be one heck of a sci-fi trilogy!

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My weekend viewing is mostly home cinema. After nearly a year, I finally caught up with Downton Abbey again. Yes I know, my TV viewing is quite pathetic, I’m still on season 2! I don’t know if I’ll finish all four seasons by year’s end but I sure will am gonna try.

Well, everything I loved about it that I wrote last year is still true. I love all the characters, there are a lot of them but even the minor characters like Mr. Lang is intriguing. Dame Maggie Smith still has the best lines, and I LOVE seeing dashing Iain Glen as a newspaper mogul Sir Richard Carlisle. It’s a testament to his versatility that he’s starring in Downton Abbey AND Game of Thrones around the same time, the two couldn’t be more different from each other.

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There are lots going on this season! What with Downton being turned into a hospital & all the intricacies that brings, Anna and Mr. Bates, not to mention the scandals of Lavinia and Sir Richard. Plenty of juicy scenes awaits!

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As part of my Hitchcock catch-up, I also saw a lesser-known film Torn Curtain (1966) as part of this Hitchcock Blogathon by Rob & Zoe. I learned about the blogathon pretty late so the films are all picked over. Still I was curious to see this one because the premise sounded intriguing and so is the casting of Paul Newman + Julie Andrews. Heh, I wish I had picked another film, it was such a bore!

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As I read the IMDb trivia, apparently Hitchcock himself didn’t like the film. So much so that he didn’t even want to appear in the trailer. He’s apparently unhappy with the screenplay and Newman’s performance but my main beef is with Julie Andrews’ casting. Well I’ll spare you the detailed review until August, but suffice to say I’d never watch it again.


Well so that’s my weekend viewing folks. How about you? Seen anything good?

Guest Review: The Hustler (1961)

Special thanks to my pal and regular commenter Kevin a.k.a Jack Deth for this in-depth review!

First, I’d like to thank Ruth for the opportunity to offer a guest review on her wonderfully enjoyable, informative site.

It’s not often that one is given the chance to rave about, offer insights or generally trash a film that piques my ire. Fear not. This review is positive in the extreme and a favorite film of mine.

Directed by Robert Rossen in 1961. The film tells the tale of ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson. Played flawlessly by a then, up and coming Paul Newman. Portraying the prototype of The Man With No Name made famous by Clint Eastwood under the direction of Sergio Leone in iconic ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ a decade later. Newman exudes supreme, cocky confidence and not much more.

What do we know about ‘Fast Eddie’?
He’s a pool hustler. Period. Nothing more.

Who with his partner and manager, Charlie Burns, has been plying his trade from Oakland to “The Church of the Good
Hustle”. Ames, by name. A walk up pool hall that resides in New York. Though could just as easily be Steubenville, Ohio. Hoboken, New Jersey. Or Gary, Indiana.
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The pool hall absolutely reeks of atmosphere as Eddie and Charlie await the arrival of ‘Minnesota Fats’. The man of legend. Jackie Gleason at his absolute best! Introductions are made and a marathon game begins with lush B&W overlays as the camera pans through the smoke hazed, shadowy room to a coffee house, Be Bop soundtrack laid down by Kenyon Hopkins. That only adds to the cat and mouse game played by two masters. As shots are made. Balls clack and travel into called pockets. Only to be racked and travel again.

Soon, another is added to the mix. George C. Scott as the silently watching, milk sipping, Bert Gordon. Who meticulously sizes up ‘Fast Eddie’ and finds him wanting. The match continues. Eddie loses and Bert takes Eddie under his wing. Playing rich, well heeled players in assorted halls and their opulent homes across the US. Life is good for Eddie, but not great. That happens when he happens across Piper Laurie’s Sarah Packard at a bus station, who instantly sees Eddie’s flaws and senses his damages are about equal to her own. Eddie and Sarah fall in about as close to love as either can manage. Which irritates, then annoys Bert as money is made and opportunities are sought. For Bert, to make more money. For Eddie and Sarah, any way to get away from Bert.
The opportunity arises, but not in a good way. As Eddie and Sarah break away from Bert. Only to have Eddie play fast and loose and have his fingers broken in a grimy hall just west of nowhere. Eddie recovers and is talked back into Bert’s good graces for another faraway game. Of Snooker. Not pool. Allowing Bert to have more than a slight hand in Sarah’s drunken suicide in a less than five star hotel room.

Which sets the stage for the final battle.

One that is more than worthy of the wait. As Eddie comes looking not for blood, but for money. Which to Bert is the same thing. Shots are made. Eyes shift and for once, Eddie is the Captain of his own fate.It’s a wonderful thing to watch. As Fats finally concedes. And Eddie wins. A Pyrrhic victory? Almost certainly! As Bert scarily shouts “You owe me MONEY!” And Eddie uses his newly applied leverage to verbally beat Bert down on percentages and cuts of the future takes. Before turning his back on Bert amidst threats to never play in a big time poll hall again.

Now. What makes this film good?

Many, many things. The B&W cinematography is near flawless. Especially at Ames. The pool hall where Fats plies his trade. Where shadows merge amongst the silent, attentively watching, down and out crowd to as one fluidly intertwined mass. The clarinet, saxophone, bongo drum and bass soundtrack may seem out of place at first, but quickly becomes part of the grim, desperate, close to grimy atmosphere.

The secondary characters all seem born to play their parts. From Michael Constantine’s world weary, ‘Big John’. To Murray Hamilton’s slimy, arrogant, southern gentleman, ‘Findley’. To Myron McCormack’s just looking to get by, Charlie Burns. All give their roles more than their best shot. And it shows!

What makes this film great?

Everything that makes it good. Plus watching three cinematic greats laying down their foundations early. Newman has never been more hungry and desperate. Planting seed that would flourish in later films, Cool Hand Luke and The Verdict. Gleason has never more completely owned a role. Physically or otherwise. It’s a treat to watch him waltz around a pool table. His eyes constantly seeking an unseen angle. While George C. Scott radiates silent, sinister evil. Rarely using his voice, but when he does. He scores!

Kudos to Robert Rossen for his screenplay and superb direction. Black & White works like a hand inside a glove for this film. Much more so than Martin Scorsese’s choice of color for his later, The Color Of Money, which has about one tenth the atmosphere. More than worthy of its two Oscar wins for Best Cinematography and Art/Set Direction. Though Newman, Laurie, Gleason and Scott were robbed of their Lead and Supporting Actor Oscars.


Have you seen this film? We welcome your thoughts in the comments.