The Sting

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This article is about the 1973 film. For other uses, see Sting.
The Sting
Stingredfordnewman.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by George Roy Hill
Produced by Tony Bill
Michael Phillips
Julia Phillips
Written by David S. Ward
Starring Paul Newman
Robert Redford
Robert Shaw
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by William Reynolds
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 1973 (1973-12-25)
Running time 129 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5.5 million[1]
Box office $159,616,327[1]

The Sting is a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936, involving a complicated plot by two professional grifters (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) to con a mob boss (Robert Shaw).[2] The film was directed by George Roy Hill, who had directed Newman and Redford in the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Created by screenwriter David S. Ward, the story was inspired by real-life cons perpetrated by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man.

The title phrase refers to the moment when a con artist finishes the "play" and takes the mark's money. If a con is successful, the mark does not realize he has been "taken" (cheated), at least not until the con men are long gone. The film is played out in distinct sections with old-fashioned title cards, with lettering and illustrations rendered in a style reminiscent of the Saturday Evening Post. The film is noted for its anachronistic use of ragtime, particularly the melody "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin, which was adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch (and a top-ten chart single for Hamlisch when released as a single from the film's soundtrack). The film's success encouraged a surge of popular and critical acclaim for Joplin's work.[3]

The Sting was hugely successful at the 46th Academy Awards, being nominated for 10 Oscars and winning seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

Plot[edit]

The film takes place in 1936, at the height of the Great Depression. Johnny Hooker, a grifter in Joliet, Illinois, cons $11,000 in cash from an unsuspecting victim with the aid of his partners Luther Coleman and Joe Erie. Buoyed by the windfall, Luther announces his retirement and advises Hooker to seek out an old friend, Henry Gondorff, in Chicago to teach him "the big con". Unfortunately, their victim was a numbers racket courier for vicious crime boss Doyle Lonnegan. Corrupt Joliet police Lieutenant William Snyder confronts Hooker, revealing Lonnegan's involvement and demanding part of Hooker’s cut. Having already spent his share, Hooker pays Snyder in counterfeit bills. Lonnegan's men murder Luther, and Hooker flees for his life to Chicago.

Hooker finds Henry Gondorff, a once-great con-man now hiding from the FBI, and asks for his help in taking on the dangerous Lonnegan. Gondorff is initially reluctant, but he relents and decides to resurrect an elaborate and supposedly obsolete scam known as "the wire", using a crew of con artists to create a phony off-track betting parlor.

Aboard the opulent 20th Century Limited, Gondorff, posing as boorish Chicago bookie Shaw, buys into Lonnegan's private, high-stakes poker game. Shaw infuriates Lonnegan with his obnoxious behavior, then out-cheats him to win $15,000. Hooker, posing as Shaw's disgruntled employee, Kelly, is sent to collect the winnings and instead convinces Lonnegan that he wants to take over Shaw's operation. Kelly reveals that he has a partner named Les Harmon (actually con man Kid Twist) in the Chicago Western Union office, who will allow them to win bets on horse races by past-posting.

Meanwhile, Snyder has tracked Hooker to Chicago, but his pursuit is thwarted when he is summoned by undercover FBI agents led by Agent Polk, who orders him to assist in their plan to arrest Gondorff using Hooker. At the same time, Lonnegan has grown frustrated with the inability of his men to find and kill Hooker. Unaware that Kelly is Hooker, he demands that Salino, his best assassin, be given the job. A mysterious figure with black leather gloves is then seen following and observing Hooker.

Kelly's connection appears effective, as Harmon provides Lonnegan with the winner of one horse race and the trifecta of another race. Lonnegan agrees to finance a $500,000 bet at Shaw's parlor to break Shaw and gain revenge. Shortly thereafter, Snyder captures Hooker and brings him before FBI Agent Polk. Polk forces Hooker to betray Gondorff by threatening to incarcerate Luther Coleman's widow.

The night before the sting, Hooker sleeps with Loretta, a waitress from a local restaurant. As Hooker leaves the building the next morning, he sees Loretta walking toward him. The black-gloved man appears behind Hooker and shoots her dead – she was Lonnegan's hired killer, Loretta Salino, and the shooter was hired by Gondorff to protect Hooker.

Armed with Harmon’s tip to "place it on Lucky Dan", Lonnegan makes the $500,000 bet at Shaw’s parlor on Lucky Dan to win. As the race begins, Harmon arrives and expresses shock at Lonnegan's bet, explaining that when he said "place it" he meant, literally, that Lucky Dan would "place" (i.e., finish second). In a panic, Lonnegan rushes the teller window and demands his money back. As this happens, Agent Polk, Lt. Snyder, and a half dozen FBI officers storm the parlor. Polk confronts Gondorff, then tells Hooker he is free to go. Gondorff, reacting to the betrayal, shoots Hooker in the back. Polk then shoots Gondorff and orders Snyder to get the ostensibly respectable Lonnegan away from the crime scene. With Lonnegan and Snyder safely away, Hooker and Gondorff rise amid cheers and laughter. Agent Polk is actually Hickey, a con man, running a con atop Gondorff's con to divert Snyder and provide a solid "blow off". As the con men strip the room of its contents, Hooker refuses his share of the money, saying "I'd only blow it", and walks away with Gondorff.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Filming on location in Pasadena, California. Stand-ins are used to set up the shot.

The movie was filmed on the Universal Studios backlot, with some scenes filmed at the Santa Monica Pier, in Pasadena, and in Chicago at Union Station and the former LaSalle Street Station prior to its demolition.[4][5] Lonnegan's limp (used to great effect in the film by Robert Shaw) was authentic; Shaw had slipped on a wet handball court at the Beverly Hills Hotel a week before filming began and had injured the ligaments in his knee. He wore a leg brace during production which was hidden under the wide 1930s style trousers. This incident was revealed by Julia Phillips in her 1991 autobiography You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. She stated that Shaw saved The Sting, since no other actor would accept the part; Paul Newman hand-delivered the script to Shaw in London in order to ensure his participation. Philips' book asserts that Shaw was not nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award because he demanded that his name follow those of Newman and Redford before the film's opening title.

Rob Cohen (later director of action films such as The Fast and the Furious) years later told of how he found the script in the slush pile when working as a reader for Mike Medavoy, a future studio head, but then an agent. He wrote in his coverage that it was "the great American screenplay and … will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film." Medavoy said that he would try to sell it on that recommendation, promising to fire Cohen if he couldn't. Universal bought it that afternoon, and Cohen keeps the coverage framed on the wall of his office.[6]

Reception[edit]

The film received rave reviews and was a box office smash in 1973-74, taking in more than US$160 million. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #39 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written.[7]

Awards[edit]

Wins[edit]

The film won seven Academy Awards and received three other nominations.[8] At the 46th Academy Awards, Julia Phillips became the first female producer to be nominated for and to win Best Picture.[9]

Nominations[edit]

Music[edit]

The soundtrack album, executive produced by Gil Rodin, included several Scott Joplin ragtime compositions, adapted by Marvin Hamlisch. According to Joplin scholar Edward A. Berlin, ragtime had experienced a revival in the 1970s due to several separate, but coalescing events:

  1. Joshua Rifkin's recording of Joplin rags on Nonesuch Records, a classical label, became a "classical" best-seller.
  2. The New York Public Library issued a two-volume collection of Joplin's music, thereby giving the stamp of approval of one of the nation's great institutions of learning.
  3. Treemonisha received its first full staging, as part of a Afro-American Music Workshop at Morehouse College, in Georgia.
  4. Gunther Schuller, president of the New England Conservatory of Music, led a student ensemble in a performance of period orchestrations of Joplin's music.
  5. Inspired by Schuller's recording, the producer of the movie The Sting had Marvin Hamlisch score Joplin's music for the film, thereby bringing Joplin to a mass, popular public.[3]

There are some variances from the film soundtrack, as noted. Joplin's music was no longer popular by the 1930s, although its use in The Sting evokes the 1930s gangster movie, The Public Enemy, which featured Joplin's music. The two Jazz Age-style tunes written by Hamlisch are chronologically closer to the film's time period than are the Joplin rags:

  1. "Solace" (Joplin) - orchestral version
  2. "The Entertainer" (Joplin) - orchestral version
  3. "The Easy Winners" (Joplin)
  4. "Hooker's Hooker" (Hamlisch)
  5. "Luther" - same basic tune as "Solace", re-arranged by Hamlisch as a dirge
  6. "Pine Apple Rag" / "Gladiolus Rag" medley (Joplin)
  7. "The Entertainer" (Joplin) - piano version
  8. "The Glove" (Hamlisch) - a Jazz Age style number; only a short segment was used in the film
  9. "Little Girl" (Madeline Hyde, Francis Henry) - not in the final cut of the film
  10. "Pine Apple Rag" (Joplin)
  11. "Merry-Go-Round Music" medley (traditional) - "Listen to the Mocking Bird" was the only portion of this track that was actually used in the film, along with the second segment of "King Cotton", a Sousa march, which was not on the album
  12. "Solace" (Joplin) - piano version
  13. "The Entertainer" / "The Ragtime Dance" medley (Joplin)

The album sequence differs from the film sequence, a standard practice with vinyl LPs, often for aesthetic reasons. Some additional content differences:

  • Selected snippets of Joplin's works, some appearing on the album and some not, provided linking music over the title cards that introduced major scenes. (The final card, "The Sting", introducing the film's dramatic conclusion, had no music.)
  • Some tunes in the film are different takes than those on the album.
  • A Joplin tune used in the film but not appearing in the soundtrack album was "Cascades". The middle (fast) portion of it was played when Hooker was running from Snyder along the 'L' train platform.
  • The credits end with "The Rag-time Dance" (Joplin) medley which features a 'stop-time' motif similar to a later work "Stop-Time Rag" (Joplin).

Chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Position
1974 Billboard 200 1
Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart
Preceded by
Chicago VII by Chicago
Billboard 200 number-one album
May 4 - June 7, 1974
Succeeded by
Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot
Preceded by
Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
June 17 - July 28, 1974
August 5–11, 1974
Succeeded by
Caribou by Elton John

Sequel[edit]

A sequel with different players, The Sting II, appeared in 1983. In the same year a prequel was planned, exploring the earlier career of Henry Gondorff. Famous confidence man Soapy Smith was scripted to be Gondorff's mentor. When the sequel failed, the prequel was scrapped.

Home media[edit]

A deluxe DVD, The Sting: Special Edition (part of the Universal Legacy Series) was released in September 2005, including a "making of" featurette and interviews with the cast and crew. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in 2012, as a part of Universal's 100th anniversary string of releases.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The Sting, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  2. ^ Variety film review; December 12, 1973, page 16.
  3. ^ a b Edward A. Berlin (1996). "Basic Repertoire List - Joplin". Classical Net. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  4. ^ "LaSalle Street Station". Metra. Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  5. ^ "Movies Filmed in Chicago". City of Chicago. Retrieved 2014-07-10. 
  6. ^ Lussier, Germaine (November 21, 2008). "Screenings: 'The Sting' as part of Paul Newman Retrospective". Times-Herald Record (News Corporation). Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  7. ^ Savage, Sophia (February 27, 2013). "WGA Lists Greatest Screenplays, From 'Casablanca' and 'Godfather' to 'Memento' and 'Notorious'". Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ "The 46th Academy Awards (1974) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-02. 
  9. ^ "NY Times: The Sting". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 

External links[edit]