(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Sting (1973)
One Sentence Plot Summary: One of the foremost heist movies ever made features the second and sadly final collaboration of Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
Why It’s on the List:
Can you believe there is a classy Oscar-type picture with a character named JOHNNY HOOKER as the lead protagonist? I expect a movie like Money Plane to have this character, not one where Robert Redford is the character and Paul Newman is his co-star. This is not the original heist movie but it’s one of the best. Again, this taking place in Chicago is not reflective of why this made the list. If that were true, Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would also have made the list, and they will not.
This is a brilliantly laid out film that plays out relatively straightforward. It’s mostly a revenge film after Hooker loses his mentor and friend Luther. We meet the arrogant Doyle Lonnegan, and he pretty much just plays a foil for the protagonists.
What makes this film work is the way it feels like it could have actually been made in 1936. The decision to use Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” was a good one. I love the look as well as the title cards that reveal each part of the scheme. I appreciate the performances, especially Newman. He generally comes across like a movie star but has just enough shadiness attached to him. Robert Shaw is best known for his role in Jaws, and this is completely different. The idea of him not touching booze or gambling is hilarious if you understand who he is as a real person.
Robert Redford seems a bit miscast as Johnny Hooker. I don’t quite buy him as a hustler, but given we see most of the movie through his POV, I think this movie works. The supporting players also fill in their roles and add a great deal of flavor. Almost no one is what they seem, and the one police officer is extremely corrupt. Remember when Hollywood didn’t make all cops seems heroic? This is a tremendously entertaining two hour movie that probably won’t play as well if for no other reason than it’s not that twisty and the ending is relatively easy to see.
*This movie isn’t nearly as bad as I had feared given it was made in 1973 and takes place in 1936. Hooker’s girlfriend does turn out to be a killer, so there’s the femme fatale trope. Hooker’s mentor Luther also comes off a bit like a wise old negro who gets fridged to motivate the rest of the plate. Could have been a lot worse!
MVP: David S. Ward is the credited screenwriter, and this came out when he was 28. It’s wild to look at his iMDB and see his output since. He is probably best known for writing and directing the first Major League. What I love so much about the dialogue is how it feels appropriate for the time period. The plot is also fairly dense for the time period with twists involving the police and FBI complicating the numbers game being played on Robert Shaw’s character. George Roy Hill is a solid director, and I really love the visual aesthetic, but that wouldn’t mean a whole lot unless the script was pitch perfect.
Best Performance: I could watch Paul Newman act all day because he just has a movie star quality. Arguably, Robert Redford is the lead as we mostly follow his journey to its logical conclusion, but the best scene is Paul Newman at the poker game matching wits with Robert Shaw. Honestly, Newman faking being drunk is better than when actors play actual drunk. A great small detail is the way Gondorff constantly mispronounces Lonnegan’s name. In a way, it’s more satisfying to watch Gondorff overcome Lonnegan in that moment than when Lonnegan loses the half million dollars.
Johnny Hooker: Can you get a mob together?
Henry Gondorff: After what happened to Luther, I don’t think I can get more than two, three hundred guys.
Is there a sequel? A sequel was made ten years later.
How is it? I have never watched it because neither Newman or Redford are involved, but it’s apparently terrible