Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic? Hell yeah! The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies. Everything about it exudes quality. The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism. The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.
The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago. Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw. Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces. George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era. I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie. Newman is at his best. Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization. His mannerisms are fantastic. One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money. Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella? He and I went to fifth grade together. If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City. Yafalla (which means do you follow)?
The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman. There are twists, turns and surprises. The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way. It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner. But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending. When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it. “I’d only lose it anyway.”
Give it a try if you’ve never seen it. Highly recommended.