The Sting (1973)

The Sting (1973)The Sting is an Oscar-winning caper movie released in 1973 by Universal Pictures. The film follows the story of a pair of professional con artists who perpetrate a con against a mob boss. The film draws its inspiration from a book entitled "The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man," by David Maurer. In addition, the plot of The Sting closely mirrors the "Horse Play" episode of Orson Welles’ radio show, entitled The Third Man.

The title of the film refers to the finish of a con artist’s ploy, when he takes the target’s money. The Sting was incredibly successful, earning over $160 million at the box office and taking seven Academy Awards.

Cast and Crew of The Sting

The film centers around two conmen, Henry "Shaw" Gondorff and Johnny "Kelly" Hooker. Paul Newman plays Shaw while Robert Redford plays Kelly. Robert Shaw plays Doyle Lonnegan, a mob boss and the target of the sting. Eileen Brennan plays Billie, Shaw’s lover. Charles Durning plays Lt. William Snyder, a police officer. The cast is rounded out by Ray Walston, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar, James Sloyan, Larry D. Mann, and Robert Earl Jones.

The Sting was directed by George Roy Hill, and produced by Tony Bill, Michael Phillips, and Julia Phillips. The screenplay was written by David S. Ward. Marvin Hamlisch composed the music for The Sting, thought the majority of the soundtrack is dominated by Scott Joplin ragtime music. Robert Surtees and William Reynolds handled the cinematography and editing, respectively.

Plot Synopsis for The Sting

The Sting is set in the 1930s. Redford plays Johnny Hooker as a small-time grifter from Illinois. Hooker, Luther Coleman, and Joe Erie con $11,000 from a "mark," or victim, and Luther informs Johnny that he’s retiring from crime to move to Kansas City. Luther tells Hooker to seek out Henry Gondorff in Chicago to learn the ways of larger con operations.

It turns out that the mark they conned was a runner for Chicago mob boss Doyle Lonnegan. William Snyder, a lieutenant for the corrupt Joliet, Illinois police, demands $2,000 to provide Hooker with protection. Coleman falls victim to Lonnegan’s hit men before Hooker can warn him, and Hooker heads for Chicago to meet with Gondorff.

Gondorff is a broken-down con man on the lam from the FBI, living in a tavern/brothel in an amusement park. Although Gondorff is initially reluctant to fight back against Lonnegan, partly due to fear of being killed, he eventually agrees to assist Hooker in a sting. The conmen erect an elaborate ploy to take down Lonnegan.

At this point, Gondorff takes on the name "Shaw" and enters a high stakes poker game with Lonnegan on a train, using the money he conned from Lonnegan earlier. Both Shaw and Lonnegan engage in cheating, with Shaw "out-cheating" Lonnegan and winning $15,000 in one hand. Lonnegan is unable to pay the debt because his wallet is in his room. Shaw sends Hooker, now posing as Kelly, to Lonnegan’s room later to collect the debt.

The movie includes a number of double-crosses, betrayals, and murders, and ultimately ends with Hooker and Gondorff conning Lonnegan for half of one million dollars. Hooker ends up giving Gondorff his share of the take, citing that he’d only waste the money.

Soundtrack for The Sting

The Sting was particularly noteworthy for its soundtrack, which featured the music of Scott Joplin and largely elevated Joplin’s music basic into the mainstream. The soundtrack, featuring Joplin ragtime tracks like Solace, The Entertainer, The Easy Winners, and Pineapple Rag, climbed to the number one position on the Billboard 200 shortly after The Sting’s release.

The Sting’s soundtrack also featured a couple of original jazz recordings written by Hamlisch. Some of the songs featured in the film are slightly different from those found on the soundtrack album, and the song sequence on the album differs from how they’re heard in the film.

Awards for The Sting

The Sting won a bevy of awards, including seven Academy Awards. The Sting was nominated for Best Actor (Robert Redford), Best Cinematography and Sound. It was nominated and won for Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, and Best Music (Marvin Hamlisch).

The Sting also won an Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures from the Directors Guild of America, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. David S. Ward also won a WGA award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen.

Additional Notes on The Sting

The Sting was shot on Universal Studio’s backlot. The film was novelized after being released by Robert Weverka. Shortly after Universal released The Sting, David Maurer (author of The Big Con) filed a lawsuit for $10 million, claiming that the film’s plot had been ripped from his novel. The lawsuit was resolved in 1976 out of court.

Interestingly, the person who originally found the script for The Sting and decided that it would make for an excellent movie was Rob Cohen, director of modern action films such as The Fast and the Furious. Cohen was working as a reader for Mike Medavoy, currently a studio head and formerly an agent. Universal bought it the same day that Cohen discovered the script.