In the last post we looked at how Redford and Newman’s partnership put the pair on an equal footing with each actor having their fair share of screen time. However, in our final film of the 1970s, Redford was presented as the leading man as his character Johnny Hooker had much more screen time.
The opening twenty or so minutes of The Sting introduced us to Hooker, a fairly adept conman who pulls of an operation, not realising that he’s stealing from notorious crime boss Doyle Lonegan. After blowing the money he stole and realising his life’s at risk, Hooker flees to Chicago and meets up with world-weary conman Henry Gondorff, played by Newman. Though the two are initially reluctant partners they eventually invent a scheme to steal millions of pounds from Doyle, partly as revenge for the murder of their mutual acquaintance Luther Coleman. Both introduce themselves to Doyle aboard a train, using aliases, and manage to convince him that they are bookie and disgruntled employee respectively. After Gondorff, posing as the bookie, manages to out-con Doyle, Hooker convinces him that they can take the bookie to the cleaners by rigging a horse race. From there all of the characters try to outdo one another, with the plot taking another turn with the introduction of Lieutenant Snyder, a corrupt officer who has a vendetta with Hooker. There are a couple of twists along the way that not even I saw coming whilst Hooker finds a brief romance with a down-to-Earth waitress. Just like with Butch and Sundance, the final scene ends with a shoot-out but unlike the duo’s earlier film this one is played as just another con.
I did find it odd that Hill recruited Redford and Newman only to have them share a minimum amount of scenes together. Though they’re working on the same con together, Redford spends most of his time with Robert Shaw’s Doyle and Newman is often seen in another room. When they do share scenes together, their chemistry is still brilliant but to me these segments are few and far between. However, they do highlight how art imitates life with Newman’s Gondorff being the world weary master to Redford’s Hooker who still has a lot to learn After The Sting, Redford’s star would surpass Newman’s and sadly the pair didn’t work together on the big screen again. As far as the film as a whole goes I thought it was visually brilliant, especially thanks to William H Reynold’s Oscar-winning editing as he used plenty of unique methods to cut between scenes. In fact everything from the period detail, to the costumes and the Al Jolson score set it apart from other films being made at the time. Similarly, David S Ward’s brilliantly crafted story keeps the audience guessing as we find we’ve been conned as much as the majority of the characters in The Sting. But, despite an entertaining story and a unique visual style, I didn’t personally think The Sting had much going on below the surface. Though Butch and Sundance was presented in a similarly flippant style, the romantic plot involving Etta gave it a bit of depth and made the characters feel sympathetic. Despite enjoying their exploits, I didn’t think Gondorff and Hooker were particularly well-rounded individuals and I didn’t really connect with them as characters. Ultimately I think The Sting is one of those films that may not have deserved the Best Picture award that it received at the 1974 ceremony.