The Best Picture Winners: The Sting (1973)

| December 8, 2017

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

Following the mood of the country, most of the choices Best Picture winners in the late 60s and early 70s seemed to favor outlaws, establishment-tweakers and rule-breakers.  That’s true of A Man for All Seasons, Oliver, Midnight Cowboy, Patton, One Flew over the Coo-Coo’s Nest, and the two Godfather pictures.  Even The French Connection had a man inside the law stepping outside the law!  Perhaps the only film of this lot that didn’t have darker edges was George Roy Hill’s color con-game The Sting, a movie so popular that it not only became the best-selling movie of 1973 but also revived an interest in Scott Jopin’s ragtime music and 30s culture.

The outlaw spirit of The Sting makes it a lot of fun, following an over-elaborate con perpetrated by two Chicago professionals Johnny Hooker and Harry Gondorff (Redford and Newman in their second and last pairing) who try and bilk a burly Irish gangster from New York (played in stiff performance by Robert Shaw) who is responsible for the murder of one of their friends.

I’d be here all day if outlined the twists and turns of the con, all I can say is that it so well-crafted that you’re amazed how carefully it is all laid out.  It is fun watching the establishment of a con so large that you’re sure that somebody somewhere is getting wise.  Every step, every trick, every twist and turn is carefully laid out so there are no holes in the game or gaps in common sense.

My only issue with The Sting is the character of Doyle Lonnegan played by Robert Shaw.  He is the mark in Gondoff and Hooker’s scheme, but he seems so dumb and so easily taken that I was left wondering how he ever out-maneuvered the New York mob to rise to the top of the crime world.  But, perhaps that’s not the point.  The point is to see how Gondorff and Hooker and their colorful array of fellow con artists build an entire book-making industry out of paper and draperies, words and fancy clothes in order to pull the job.  It is a fun ride, perhaps not tilting to award-worthy, but its fun all the same.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.