Study Guide

The Sting Introduction

The Sting Introduction


Release Year: 1973

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Director: George Roy Hill

Writer: David S. Ward

Stars: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw


Here's the thing about The Sting: it might be the most charming movie of all time.

Yeah, yeah—we know the entire Pixar canon is pretty crazy-charming. We also know that any movie with Ryan Gosling is at least 40% charming. And of course, there's a special kind of charming reserved for movies about plucky animal friends that have zany mishaps.

But until you're seen The Sting, friend, you don't know what charm is.

Stop us when the charm gets overwhelming: this movie stars Robert Redford as an aspiring youngster named Johnny Hooker and Paul Newman as a wise mentor named Henry Gondorff. Both of these handsome dudes are kind-hearted, wisecracking con artists…that only pull cons on really evil, powerful men.

Charmed yet? Wait—there's more.

These guys have to pair up when Hooker realizes he's in deep with a super-connected mob boss named Doyle Lonnegan (played by Robert Shaw, a.k.a. Quint from Jaws). So this dynamic duo assembles a crack team of like-minded, super-witty conmen buddies to pull one over on Lonnegan.

Oh yeah—and the whole thing is set in 1930s Chicago and features a ragtime music soundtrack so good it hit the top of the Billboard charts in 1974. (No; really.)

Released in 1973, The Sting opened to rave reviews (no shocker there) and went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. And audiences today are still nuts about the movie. Andrew Pulver over at The Guardian said—in 2017, mind you—that it was his favorite Best Picture Winner of all time:

But The Sting is the most purely enjoyable film in Oscar history—and that, I think, puts it in the most valuable American film-making tradition of all.

First and foremost, The Sting is simply a great caper movie. It wasn't the first, of course—the convoluted-robbery film was a popular genre throughout the 1960s—but it's got to be the most complicated brainteaser ever to reach blockbuster and major awards status. In fact, it disproves the idea that popular movies have to be dumb; maybe it's just a peculiarity of the caper genre, but The Sting is as knotty as a differential equation. (Source)

Putting aside the fact that Pulver praised The Sting by comparing it to a differential equation—yay, differential equations?—we think he got it absolutely right. This movie is smart, slick, enjoyable, and yes: totally charming

  

What is The Sting About and Why Should I Care?

Con artists.

We as a movie-going public can't get enough of these guys. In fact, they're probably the demographic we most want to see onscreen but would least like to encounter in real life…apart from that other fan favorite, the sexy vampire.

If there's a movie about conmen doing their con thing, we're all over it—you've probably seen Ocean's 11? Or Catch Me If You Can? American Hustle? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? Focus? Matchstick Men?

Here's one reason why we love movies about a particular brand of criminal you'd probably never want to meet in real life (because they'd take all your money): these guys make for the stuff of great plot. A movie about conmen is fast-paced, thought-provoking, tricky, and, ultimately, super-satisfying.

Here's another reason: characters. Even though real-life con artists are probably more sleazy and depressing than a Reno casino at three a.m., on screen they're electric. These are criminals that work with their minds: they're witty, sexy, and often hilarious. They're well-dressed and think fast. They know what people want, and they know people's weaknesses.

But why should you watch this particular con artist movie instead of re-watching the first season of Better Call Saul? Because The Sting is the godfather—and yes, we mean that in a criminal mastermind-type of way—of con artist cinema.

This is a movie that pits two (extremely handsome) conmen against a ruthless thug of a mob boss. It pits friendship against power-hunger. It pits brains against brawn. It pits the little guy against The Man.

In short, it manages to make the life of the confidence artist into the American Dream: if you're a clever underdog who knows that hard work and friendship are more important than control and blunt force, you'll flourish.

(Bonus reason Why You Should Care: the soundtrack is amazing.)

Trivia

How's this for a weird fact? Actor Robert Redford (who plays Johnny) never actually saw this movie until 2004. He must have had better things to do than watch himself act. (Source)

Apparently, Jack Nicholson was the first choice to play Johnny Hooker before Redford decided to step up and play the role. (Source)

You know how Doyle Lonnegan walks with a limp? Well it turns out that the injury was real. Just a week before filming started, actor Robert Shaw slipped on a wet handball court and tore up the ligaments in his knee. But like a total pro, he rolled with it and made the limp part of his character. (Source)

The Sting Resources

Websites

The Sting at IMDB.com
This is the place you want to go for all the vitals on this movie…and some pretty great movie trivia.

The Sting at Rottentomatoes.com
Critics give the movie a 93% rating and audiences give it a 95%. We think they're both wrong: this bad boy deserves 100% across the board.

The Sting at RogerEbert.com
This is the place you want to be for an expert breakdown of all the ups and downs of this classic film.

Articles and Interviews

"Irresistible"
One reviewer from The Telegraph tells us why The Sting is the American caper movie and why it's even better than it's George Roy Hill predecessor, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Critics' Corner: The Sting
One reviewer from Turner Classic Movies explains some of the funny production stories behind The Sting and how everything came together to make a magical, jaunty movie (did we mention that it's jaunty)?

Original 1973 Review of The Sting
This is a great look into what people thought of the movie when it first came out. And kudos to this reviewer for pointing out the fact that The Sting often feels like "a musical comedy from which the songs have been removed."

Video

The World's Easiest Five Grand
So Mottolla thinks he just made himself some easy money. But he's about to find out that he's not the one who just walked away with cold hard cash.

"A Game of Jacks"
Because who among us doesn't love watching Henry Gondorff totally own Doyle Lonnegan in a game of cards.

This is a Class Joint
If you want some help figuring out how to get rid of a guy's bodyguards, here's the clip that'll do it.

Audio

The Sting Soundtrack Suite
Sit back and enjoy this little compilation of the most popular songs from The Sting. And just try not to tap your toes.

Sting!
It doesn't have much to do with the movie, but how can we talk about the word "Sting" and "audio" without including some music from the one and only Sting?

Images

Let's Play Some Poker!
And by "play," of course we mean cheat.

Wait for the Sign…
And there it is.

We Didn't Do Nothin'
Henry and Johnny give us their best, "This is all a big misunderstanding."

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