No. 84 | April 28, 2010
Our theme this week
Card games at the movies
“You can’t con an honest man” always has struck me as a suspect piece of wisdom—but the converse is a truism I can agree with. A crooked man can be conned. When it happens, it’s fun to watch, and that’s a good part of the pleasure behind The Sting, a clever and stylish period piece starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It’s a Depression-era story made for a Watergate-era audience with the uplifting moral that the good guys are sometimes better cheaters than the bad guys. (The look of the film is mostly appropriate for its 1936 setting, including Norman Rockwell-like illustrations for the titles. The music, however, borrows from an earlier time, with a memorable score largely based on the ragtime of Scott Joplin.)
The film is expertly plotted, as con men Henry Gondorff (Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Redford) set up and execute an elaborate sting to swindle crime boss Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw. One small part of the operation is the “hook,” a high-stakes poker game on the Chicago train, in which Lonnegan is foiled by his own cheating.
The Sting was a big hit with critics and with audiences—the Best Picture winner of 1973 and #1 film at the box office the following year.