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STING, THE(director: George Roy Hill; screenwriters: David W. Maurer/David S. Ward; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: William Reynolds; music: Scott Joplin/adaptations by Marvin Hamlisch; cast: Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. William Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), Robert Earl Jones (Luther Coleman), Dana Elcar (F.B.I. Agent Polk), Harold Gould (Kid Twist); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: PG; producer:Tony Bill/Julia Phillips/Michael Phillips; Universal; 1973)
“Overrated, overlong and unconvincing formulaic comedy caper that relies heavily on star power.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Overrated, overlong and unconvincing formulaic comedy caper that relies heavily on star power. Director George Roy Hill (“The Great Waldo Pepper”/”Slap Shot”/”Hawaii”) teams up again with Paul Newman and Robert Redford from his previous box office success of four years ago, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Writers David W. Maurer and David S. Ward employ different chapter headings to frame the buddy related conman story. It won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

It opens in 1936, in September, in Joliet, Illinois, as small-time grifter, with big ambitions, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), and his black partner, Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones), the veteran local bunco artist and the younger man’s mentor, con a number’s runner out of a $11,000 delivery. This upsets the head man of the Chicago racket, the big-time ruthless racketeer Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), who contracts a hit on the con men. After Doyle’s torpedoes throw Luther out the window of his apartment building, Hooker flees to Chi town and contacts the once Big Time legendary bunco artist Luther set him up with to learn the finer points of the con game, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman).

Since the crime lord is aiming to rub out Hooker, the down-and-out drunken Henry quickly sobers up and gathers his efficient con team together and they scheme an elaborate plan to put “the sting” in the wallet on the Irish mobster Doyle (first sucking him into a high-stake poker game aboard a train and then setting up a phony horse betting parlor to lure him into making a half-million dollar wager) to get revenge on him for murdering Luther; Hooker is as happy as a fly on a pile of dung, as he gets to play a big-time swindle.

The film excels in period details of the Chicago gangster scene in the 1930s, and Robert Surtees’ nostalgic photography is pleasing. But it tries too hard to charm and make the confidence game merely as an entertainment offering (with the viewer manipulated to identify with the supposedly good guy con artists). It’s also brought down by its mechanical story, overpadded plotline and mechanically acted out scenario that makes it look like a Hollywood shell game. It ends with a surprise twist, which kept me hanging on to the end like any sucker hoping to win back his losses in a rigged game.

Eileen Brennan has a decent turn in a supporting role, as Newman’s loyal ‘heart of gold’ madam friend; while Charles Durning plays a sleazy crooked cop shaking down Redford.

Just another so-so crowd-pleasing film with a conventional narrative that happened to win an Oscar, except this one has a great Scott Joplin jazz score that renewed interest in the composer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”