The Sting, an American caper that won seven Oscars in ten nominations, marks the 50th anniversary of its 1973 theatrical release.
I’m not going to delve into the plot but the gist of the film is that two grifters, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), are attempting to con a mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), in 1936. It’s certainly quite the con as we see how things play out at the end. Newman and Redford reteamed with their Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director George Roy Hill. It was a film that helped give Newman a boost in his career when he really needed it. The actor was still a year away from starring alongside Steve McQueen in the Oscar-winning disaster thriller, The Towering Inferno. I don’t really think much about actors starring in Oscar-nominated Best Pictures two years in a role. Regardless, this is what Paul Newman was doing in 1973-74.
Most notably, Marvin Hamlisch’s adapts Scott Joplin’s ragtime tune, “The Entertainer,” in his Oscar-winning score. Much of the score is played as an underscore throughout the film and is fully heard rather than dialogue getting in the way of enjoying it. There are a number of Joplin tunes in the score. While the film’s popularity led to a surge of interest in Joplin’s work, everything happening had been building up to the resurgence. The fact Joplin’s work predates the 1930s really didn’t matter in terms of the film. In any event, Hamlisch had himself quite the year because he also won an Oscar for Best Song for The Way We Were.
George Roy Hill took inspiration from 1930s gangster movies in his direction. One thing people will notice upon viewing is how the film is light on extras. This is being done on purpose because the 1930s movies were produced in the same manner. From a visual perspective, they utilize a mix of 1930s lighting styles with that of the 1970s. And of course, one cannot go wrong with the legendary Edith Head designing costumes. Now at Universal Pictures for a few years at the invitation of Alfred Hitchcock, Head’s work would earn her the last of eight Oscars for costume design.
The Sting had been initially proposed as a much smaller film compared to others that were being done at the time. David S. Ward, who wrote the Oscar-winning script, was looking to direct the film but Redford’s casting changed everything. Once Hill got the script, he decided to direct. It took some recruiting from Hill but Newman signed on for the role. As for the script, it is one of the best scripts in cinematic history. They would maybe change four words during filming but nothing else.
As far as awards go, the only Oscars it didn’t win were Actor (Robert Redford), cinematography, and Sound. Redford was up against a stacked class of performers, ultimately losing to Jack Lemmon’s performance in Save the Tiger. The film otherwise dominated the awards show that year, winning Best Picture. Hill won his only Oscar for directing in two nominations. While winning the Oscar, Ward missed out on a win at the Writers Guild of America Awards. Again, the competition was stacked.
The Sting has everything going perfectly right from start to finish and still holds up 50 years later as one of the best films ever made. It is a masterclass in filmmaking.
DIRECTOR: George Roy Hill
SCREENWRITER: David S. Ward
CAST: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, John Heffernan, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, Dimitra Arliss