Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Redford & Newman’s Star Power: “The Sting” 1973


Paul Newman & Robert Redford re-team for their greatest hit, 1973's "The Sting."

I hadn't seen The Sting again since it was released, back in Christmas of ‘73. I was a young teen when the smash con man caper finally came to my Upper Michigan town’s theater later that winter. Ironically, the only thing that I remembered now about The Sting is the super sting finale.

During the first half of the '70s, the nostalgia boom was in full bloom in movies, TV, theatre, and music. I think about half of the movies from Robert Redford during the mid '60s and early '70s were period pieces! The Sting was the biggest hit for stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, even bigger than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Part of it was that audiences had loved their teamwork from four years before. Also, people were tired of inflation, Vietnam, and Watergate. Most of all, while The Sting is total cinematic fluff, it was also an extraordinarily well-crafted confection.

Robert Redford & Paul Newman seek elaborate $$$ revenge in 1973's "The Sting."

Deftly done on all counts, The Sting has a clever story, fine acting, stylish production and costumes, and a great score of Scott Joplin music, adapted by Marvin Hamlisch. Watching it again in the summer of '21, The Sting still has snap.

Recall this great art work? The music of Scott Joplin was rediscovered in "The Sting."

The Sting was a coup of an Oscar win for George Roy Hill as director, against a diverse group of nominees: Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers; Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris; William Friedkin, The Exorcist; and George Lucas, American Graffiti. This was Edith Head's 8th and last Oscar win, who accepted by saying that The Sting was her dream assignment, dressing the two most handsome men in the world.

Snapshot of designer Edith Head with Robert Redford, from "The Sting."

Robert Redford has only been nominated once for Best Actor Oscar, for The Sting, which is a bit surprising in itself. And while Johnny Hooker is one of his warmest leading man performances, Redford really should have been nominated for his more in-depth performance in The Way We Were that same year. James Caan, who was shut out for one of his best performances—Cinderella Liberty—snarked at the time that Robert Redford got nominated for being cute!

Robert Redford's big year was 1973, with "The Sting" & "The Way We Were."

Paul Newman, as veteran conman Henry Gondorff, eases into his star character actor era here, and loses some of his studied cool and mannerisms from the '60s. Almost 50, Newman is also quite the silver fox here. As Henry, Newman finally seems naturalistic as an actor, and not so posturing as his previous anti-hero era. Newman’s laid-back humor also felt more organic than in past heavy-handed attempts, as in Harper. Need I really point out that Newman and Redford have a great screen rapport?

Paul Newman, moving into his star character actor era with ease, in "The Sting."

The story was based on two real-life brothers that David S. Ward was inspired by, from David Maurer’s 1940 book The Big Con. Ward claimed he used a number of sources in his research, was upset by the charges of plagiarism, and didn’t want Universal to pay out. The studio was already citing the book in its movie promotion and it didn’t help that Ward named Newman’s character after the last name of the con brothers Maurer wrote about. Universal quickly settled. TV writer/producer Roy Huggins later noted that The Sting also borrowed plot elements from a classic episode of his Maverick series: “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.” This isn’t to take away from Ward’s tight, zingy script, but why is it so hard for Hollywood talent to give others credit where it’s due?

Robert Redford, as the con man whose biggest con is nearly complete, in "The Sting."

The Sting made a fortune and was a real feel-good picture—but an Oscar winner for Best Picture? Well, far lesser films have won and who says that Oscar winners have to be dramatic, groundbreaking, etc. Sometimes Oscar-winning films and performances can just be entertaining!

The Sting boasts a terrific supporting cast all the way down the line. With two beautiful leading men to compensate, Hill’s cast looks like an idiosyncratic cast from an old Warner Brothers movie. Robert Earl Jones (James’ father!) resonates warmly as Redford’s first partner in crime, who gets rubbed out by heavy Doyle Lonnegan, which sets in motion the elaborate plot of Hooker and Gondorff’s revenge. And as Lonnegan, with his icy blue eyes and barely controlled fury, Robert Shaw makes a masterful villain. Charles Durning, Dana Elcar, Harold Gould, and Eileen Brennan lead a marvelous supporting cast, perfectly evoking a previous movie era. A special shout out to Ray Walston, who is colorful but restrained, perfect in small doses as J.J. Singleton.

Robert Shaw makes a very good villain that gets played, in "The Sting."

George Roy Hill, who often directed period films, was meticulous in creating the movie’s style. Hill wanted it to look like a ‘30s movie. And this was one of the first films to actually do so, when ‘60s period TV shows and movies regularly mixed past and current day styles, often looking absurd. To that end, Edith Head’s costumes lent themselves to the sets and movie’s hues. Art director Henry Bumstead mussed up Universal’s back lot and made it look realistic. Robert Surtee’s cinematography is lovely, with a rosy glow to suggest a past era. Jaroslav Gebr’s beautiful title cards that preceded each vignette suggested classic magazine covers by Norman Rockwell.

At nearly 50, Paul Newman is the silver fox in 1973's "The Sting."

And though Scott Joplin’s music was no longer in vogue by the mid-30s, director Hill felt the jaunty ragtime music fit the feel of the movie’s story. Marvin Hamlisch got Oscars galore that year, for both The Sting and The Way We Were, films which were also good to Redford.

The Sting is the ultimate movie-movie. If you’re looking for fine, fun entertainment to take your mind off the woes of the current-day world, escape to the charming conmen and the creative artistry of The Sting. 

Robert Redford hit his stride as leading man in 1973's "The Sting."

For Redford’s other big hit of 1973, here’s my look at The Way We Were:


FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. Check it out & join!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/178488909366865/

The stars of "The Sting," captured in the 1973 film's beautiful title cards.


  1. The title cards artwork seems more like J. C. Leyendecker than Rockwell.

  2. such a perfect movie...everything just falls (seemingly effortlessly) into place.

    1. Hi-That's a great way of putting it! And thanks for dropping a line! Rick

  3. Can’t believe I have never seen this one. Now I must! Redford and Newman should have done more movies together, they are one dynamite looking couple!
    - Chris

    1. Still holds up quite well, as pure entertainment. I think they could have done a cop movie, espionage, or any other genre movie with two strong male leads...
      Cheers, Rick