The Sting (1973)
April 3, 2016 6:56 AM - Subscribe

In Chicago in September 1936, 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.

NYTimes: The director supplements the period sets and costumes with elaborate technical devices to move from one scene into another: wipes, iris-outs, images that turn like pages. Separating sequences are title cards that recall Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers. It's all a little too much, but excess is an essential part of the film's style.

Roger Ebert: Hill's visual style is oblique; instead of stationing his actors in the frame and recording the action, he seems to sneak up on it. Newman and Redford almost seem on their way to another movie. If that sounds like a criticism, it's not meant as one: The style here is so seductive and witty it's hard to pin down. It's like nothing else I've seen by Hill, and at times, it almost reminds me of Jacques Tati crossed with Robert Altman. It's good to get a crime movie more concerned with humor and character than with blood and gore; here's one, as we say, for the whole family.

Variety: Although nearly every element in the film lends credibility to the story, the three stars make all the difference between simply a good film and a superior one. Newman in a somewhat older role than normal opens the door wide to another facet of his career; his relationship with Brennan (in a sensational supporting role) rounds out his characterization of an old pro making his last big score. Redford really turns to and works superbly (too many of his roles are shallow despite the obvious ability).

The casting of Shaw is a major coup: his taciturn menace commands attention even when he is simply part of a master shot. A less-imposing presence, in a less-imposing player, would have negated the impact of the story. Clearly, Shaw’s character is the keystone to the plot.

birthmoviesdeath: Like many extraordinary older films, The Sting feels totally modern. The characters will occasionally drop a “Shit!” here and there. Time has no softening effect on Shaw’s menace. And the film’s one real instance of violence is sudden and frank. And yet, the film also feels like a weird nexus point for a number of Hollywood eras. It’s too fun and not hard enough to be a true New Hollywood 1970s film. Shaw feels like he comes from a different world than Newman and Redford. Meanwhile character actors like Charles Durning and Ray Walston give it a late ‘70s, early ‘80s feel, as do the almost Cheers-esque opening credits.

denofgeek: There’s a sense of fun and breeziness to the early stages, but the tension soon ramps up as the stakes become apparent, and you’re fully aware that the slightest mistake could lead to the failure of the operation – and Johnny and Henry’s death if they’re found out. The tension in the latter third is almost unbearable, as twist upon twist is unveiled until the finale leaves you breathless. It’s a master class in storytelling, directing and indeed acting. It’s one of those films where everything comes together perfectly – there really isn’t a weak link here.

How we made ... Michael Phillips and David S Ward on 'The Sting'

Trailer

Gondorff/Lonergan Poker Game

The Entertainer
posted by MoonOrb (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
So my parents love this movie and have made me watch it a billion times. However, I cannot for the life of me stay interested in it for the first 3/4 of the movie, I zone out every single time until they get to the gambling joint. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON and am I the only person who can't stay interested in this? I swear I've never had this issue watching Leverage....I'd like to like it, but holy jeebus the start seems so dull.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I find that ogling Newman and Reford makes the time pass quickly, but YMMV.
posted by chaiminda at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2016


So my parents love this movie and have made me watch it a billion times. However, I cannot for the life of me stay interested in it for the first 3/4 of the movie, I zone out every single time until they get to the gambling joint.

Are we related? This is one of those movies that I think of as a generational marker, because of how different my reaction to it was compared to my parents'.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


These comments make me feel old in that case. I think of this movie as having timeless appeal, largely because of the score and the stylized sets and wardrobe which evoked a kind of Depression chic, if you can imagine such a thing.

I also appreciated the cleverness, patience, and attention to detail in the Gondorff/Hooker con. I've always prized these characteristics and this movie truly embodies them for me.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:28 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a good, clever movie that is, for its time, a really high-quality ensemble film. Remember, this film was made back when they were still using glass mattes for shots (which they do in this film to great effect)

That said, I think the overall production looks pretty dated now. Everything (save for a few shots) are soundstage sets, the lighting is generally flat, What blood there is is obviously fake, and most of the performances are "acted". I'd love to see this one remade, this time using actual locations and much more natural performances with an overall grittier feel. But, no increase in violence/bloodshed, though. The distinct lack of such is one of the better things about this film. These are "gentlemen" carrying out a con, after all.

Still, I have no problems sitting down to watch it whenever I come across it on tv.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2016


This was the Ocean's Eleven of its day. I mean, yes, I realize the original Ocean's Eleven came out 6 years prior to this one, but the pairing of Clooney and Pitt matches up with Newman and Redford much moreso than with Sinatra and Martin, if you know what I mean.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:45 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Huh, never thought of until I just saw it written out, but this is a 43-year old movie that was set 37 years in the past. In other words, if you made The Sting now, and set it equally in the past, it'd be set in 1979. Which, actually, sounds like a great idea.

I love this movie, every minute of it, and have watched it at least a half dozen times. There are parts of it I've never really understood (a merry-go-round? really?) but I find the characters and the time period compelling. The good guys win, and the bad guys get what's coming to 'em.
posted by Frayed Knot at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Love this film but the turn-of-the-century ragtime soundtrack is such a weird choice for a movie set in the '30s.
posted by octothorpe at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


In other words, if you made The Sting now, and set it equally in the past, it'd be set in 1979. Which, actually, sounds like a great idea.

Except for the card game on the train. In 1979, I don't think you'd be able to stage something like that and make it true to the era. Where, in '79, would you be able to believably stage a high-stakes, pick-up poker game while traveling cross-country? There were still trains, but they weren't nearly the same.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:00 PM on April 3, 2016


I love this movie so much.

Just on a personal note, it's been a very long, difficult process to convince my parents that it's OK that I live in Chicago. The first breakthrough we had was because of this movie.

I had just moved into an apartment on Morgan in Pilsen, just a few blocks over from Halsted, and my dad happened to be in town for work and stopped by to see my new place, giving me no end of shit about how stupid living in Chicago is for his whole list of largely inaccurate reasons. Just a few days after he got home The Sting was on TV. There's a scene that specifically mentions Halsted and Morgan (a few miles south of where I lived, but the same streets nonetheless). My dad called me and said they had just mentioned my streets in the movie, and how it was cool because he knew where that was now and I lived there.
posted by phunniemee at 7:52 AM on April 4, 2016


Love this film but the turn-of-the-century ragtime soundtrack is such a weird choice for a movie set in the '30s.

I was seven or so when this picture came out, and everyone in the second grade was basically obsessed with the soundtrack; we all learned to plink out the tune to "The Entertainer" on the piano with one hand, choreographed dances set to Joplin for the school pageant, etc. It wasn't until I finally saw the whole movie from start to finish around 2000 that I stopped and wondered why the hell they used ragtime for a movie taking place during the Depression.
posted by holborne at 3:16 PM on April 4, 2016


My mom only played Scott Joplin when I was a kid in the 80s, with this sheet music (The Sting on the cover) always on our piano, and yet the difference between the timeframe of the music and the film has never crossed my mind.

I love this movie- one of my favorites. I have seen it a dozen times and yet it's so convoluted that I don't quite remember all the plot twists. That's a good thing, though.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:42 AM on April 5, 2016


Better Call Saul references this movie quite heavily in the season 1 finale cold open. Jimmy and Marco run a con that is very similar (but not quite) to the con in the first scenes of this film. There is a shot of Marco's fake license with the name Henry Gondorff, address on Luther Street in Chicago, Illinois.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2016


Except for the card game on the train. In 1979, I don't think you'd be able to stage something like that and make it true to the era. Where, in '79, would you be able to believably stage a high-stakes, pick-up poker game while traveling cross-country? There were still trains, but they weren't nearly the same.

Could you set it in the back of a truck being driven across America by Burt Reynolds?
posted by biffa at 7:13 AM on April 6, 2016


Burt drove the Trans Am. Jerry Reed drove the truck. Unless you're talking about the other movie, in which case Burt drove the ambulance.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2016


So what you're saying is, this would be better.
posted by biffa at 4:25 AM on April 15, 2016


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