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The Sting (1973)

The Sting (1973)
June 18, 2012 - 7:30 pm
associate producer Robert L. Crawford.

Directed by George Roy Hill

Right from the start, The Sting bears the mark of New Hollywood’s self-conscious affection for Old Hollywood’s style. It opens with the Universal logo from the decade between 1936 and 1946, its swirling, glittering stars beckoning the audience into the past. As the first notes of Scott Joplin’s ragtime “The Entertainer” begin and the first of the film’s "Saturday Evening Post"-style illustrated title cards appear, we’re already caught in its nostalgic spell. Yet for all of the film’s overdetermined signifiers, it carries the weight of film history as lightly as a feather.

Such a balancing act is not surprising, given the film’s reteaming of director George Roy Hill with leading men Paul Newman and Robert Redford, whose previous outing together, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), delivered more than its share of winks without undermining its Western revisionist cred. From lovable outlaws to lovable con men, Newman and Redford here play a pair of Depression-era Chicago swindlers out to scam a big-time hood (Robert Shaw) for profit and revenge—their mark whacked a beloved mentor to them both. Their plan has more angles than a Picasso but following every turn of the screw is only half the fun in a film brimming with so much on-screen charisma. The character talent below the line runs deep, including performances by Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and Harold Gould. Behind the camera, cinematographer Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur, The Graduate) and matte painter Albert Whitlock bring old Chicago to vivid, romantic life.

The Sting was a smash hit that, combined with the box office from American Graffiti released earlier the same year, transformed Universal into the most profitable studio in Hollywood at the time. The film’s soundtrack even put Scott Joplin on the charts. Financial success was matched by critical acclaim. Praised by reviewers, The Sting was nominated for 10 Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Music. In 2005, the film was named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

—Paul Malcolm

Bill/Phillips Productions. Producer: Tony Bill, Julia Phillips. Screenwriter: David S. Ward. Cinematographer: Robert Surtees. Editor: William Reynolds. Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston.

35mm, color, 129 min.