Friday, April 1, 2011

1973 - The Sting

This past Sunday, I made my U.S. television debut in the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet. If you missed it, here's a screen grab of my turn as the obviously integral Starched Collar Man #2. (I'm on the right.) In fact, even if you watched the show on Sunday night, you may still have missed it, that brief was my appearance. For those of you with HBO, I believe you can now watch the first two episodes on demand, so fast forward to about 43:15 into Part One and keep your finger poised on the pause button.

The poll for the next year of review is now up, situated to the right of your screen. Coincidentally, the Joan Crawford version of Mildred Pierce is in the running.

Yesterday, I looked at the eventual Best Picture winner from 1973...

The Sting
George Roy Hill
David S. Ward
Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, John Heffernan, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, Dimitra Arliss, Robert Earl Jones
Academy Awards:
10 nominations
7 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director & Best Original Screenplay

During the Great Depression, small-time grifter Johnny Hooker (Redford) and his accomplice Luther (Jones) successfully con a gangster out of $11,000. Unbeknownst to them, their mark was a crony of Irish crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw). When Lonnegan has Luther killed, Hooker flees to an old friend of Luther's named Henry Gondorff (Newman), a big-time con artist who can teach Hooker how to pull off more lucrative scams. Together, they plan a high-stakes con of Lonnegan, which involves employing dozens of  accomplices, constructing a fake betting parlor and painting half a Western Union office. As the sting progresses, Hooker must also avoid the trail of corrupt police Lieutenant Snyder (Durning) who Hooker earlier paid off with counterfeit cash.

The Sting is undeniably a fun piece of cinema, full of playful energy. Central to that playfulness is the cunning trickery that the film's con men employ. With so many clever twists and turns, one sometimes joyfully experiences a mild confusion in separating what is genuine and what is merely part of the con. It is, therefore, a tad disappointing to have foreknowledge of these twists, as I did on this repeat viewing of the film. Being aware of the final twist is especially unfortunate, although it does bring a new perspective to those subtle glances between characters. In any case, there is certainly more than one twist during the course of the story and I didn't remember them all, so there were still a few surprises remaining for me to delight in.

Enhancing the picture's jaunty atmosphere are the brilliant 1930s-inspired production values. Each aspect submerges the audience deeper into the period - quaint sets, dapper costumes, slangy dialogue. And that music. Scott Joplin's popular rags, headlined by the smile-inducing The Entertainer, are wonderfully evocative.

As the leader of the confidence team, Paul Newman is at his charming best. He squeezes every drop of wit from an already incredibly witty script. Especially enjoyable is his character's fake drunkenness. Robert Redford's natural gift of subtlety gives Hooker a sarcastic sincerity that is, as always, innately watchable. Robert Shaw brings his stoic intensity to his portrayal of Lonnegan. Charles Durning is, likewise, brilliant. As are Ray Walston, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, Eileen Brennan, and I could go on. The entire cast all slip seamlessly into their characters, helped along by the excellent script, no doubt, but that's not to diminish the effectiveness of their performances. And if Luther looks familiar to you, imagine him as a Sith Lord saying, "I am your father!" Those words actually ring true since Robert Earl Jones is, indeed, the father of the voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, who is the spitting image of his dear old dad.

1 comment:

  1. Then and now. Surprisingly, The Sting was the only nominated film that I hadn't seen prior to the 1973 Academy Awards. I'm not sure why that was, but I remember that I was pulling for The Exorcist during the Awards, and was annoyed at how well The Sting did. When I finally saw it, soon afterwards, it was a packed theater, and I was completely bowled over. Thank goodness, I knew of none of the surprises beforehand.

    The Sting is a showcase of what Hollywood can do with an 'A' list cast and crew. You never forget that you are watching a movie, but it doesn't really matter. It's the dream machine at full force. I really can't point to a weakness. Every now and then a story and screenplay comes along that captivates and entertains and seems to cover all the bases. I felt that way about Back to the Future. There hadn't been that many movies to give us this level of con game - The Flim Flam Man was a minor film and Big Hand for the Little Lady, saved its con for the end. The Sting was peppered with cons and twists throughout and so well disguised that you couldn't help but get snookered as well. About the only quibble I have is the phrase "Place it on Lucky Dan." That's a bit too much of a stretch to me.

    What I can't quibble about is the seven Oscars it won. They were all well deserved.