After the period comedy "Tom Jones" won the Best Picture, in 1963, it took a whole decade for another comedy to win the Oscar, though by choosing George Roy Hill's "The Sting," a Depression-era comedy, the Academy found itself under severe attack from its more serious critics.
Cashing in on the previous success of his comedy Western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," director Hill reteamed stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford in a 1930s comedy set in Chicago about the conceits of two con men against a big-time racketeer (Robert Shaw).
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, "The Sting" won 7, including Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Scoring (see complete list below). Among other achievements, "The Sting" is the first Oscar winner to have a female producer, Julia Phillips (along with her then husband Michael Phillips and Tony Bill).
Considered to be one of the greatest con artist-heist movies, "The Sting" also features a glorious ensemble of supporting actors, including Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston. Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, and Dana Elcar.
The clever, intermittently funny picture is available on a two-disc DVD, with new bonus material that include: The Art of The Sting, a Retrospective on the Making of the Movie with comments by Newman, Redford, and other cats members, The Legacy, Director George Roy Hill and the Hollywood of Yesteryears Remembered, and others.
The plot is rather simple, sort of a string of vignettes and adventures. When the mentor of budding con artist Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford at its most handsome) is killed by coldhearted mob boss Doyle Lonigan (a terrific Robert Shaw, just a year or so before his other great performance, in "Jaws"), Hooker turns for help to Henry Gondof (Paul Newman at its most charming and handsome), a one-time master conman, who has recently fallen on hard times. Together they seek revenge of Lonigan with the elaborate sting, which stands as one of the greatest double-crosses in movie history, complete with an amazing surprise finish.
Set in 1936, The Sting captures both the ragtime and the gangster pictures of the 1930s, a synthetic period compounded of Scott Joplin's rags. The movie is full of crooks but they are of the sweet and soft not the menacing kind. The film is directed in a rather impersonal by George Roy Hill. Too diffuse, David S. Wards disjointed script feels like a pastiche of Damon Runyon tales.
Released to mostly good reviews, "The Sting" grossed an immense amount of money, ranking high on Variety's List of All-Time Film Champions. Admittedly, the film has some charm, and its music, Scott Joplin's piano rags, adapted by Marvin Hamlisch, became immensely popular throughout the country. Still, many felt that such commercial blockbusters should not have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in the first place, let alone win.
Both Redford and Newman were at their prime and sexiest in the 1970s, and both look younger than their biological ages. However, given mostly banal dialogue, Newman and Redford almost let their period hats do their work for them.
The Sting joyously strings together chapters in the manner of a Saturday-afternoon serial, each with its own cliffhanger. The narrative is divided into chapters, each with a jokey or literal title. The audiences were invited to wait around to see what the happy couple of Newman and Redford do next. The stars show strong chemistry that almost camouflages the fact that there are no women in their lives
The critic Pauline Kael noted that the absence of women was really felt as a lack in this movie. The device of giving the heroes unimportant women characters for romance or bedmates, such as Eileen Brennan, reflect one of the worst sexiest eras in Hollywood's history.
"The Sting" is a roguishly charming entertainment about big-time cardsharps and swindlers. But visually the movie is mechanical and impersonal, and you feel as if the music is meant to do the job of the story. The overlong movie (130 minutes) drags on, section after section.
The choice of a "frivolous comedy" as the Oscar winner caused many controversies. Once again, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) found itself under severe attack from its more serious critics. Eyebrows were raised and questions asked: Is "The Sting" Oscar-caliber Is that the kind of film that should be honored with the most prestigious film award in the world
The Sting won 7 Oscars out of its 10 nominations:
Picture: Tony Bill, Michael Phillips, Julia Phillips, producers
Director: George Roy Hill
Story and Screenplay (Adapted): David Ward
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Henry Bumstead, James Payne
Scoring (Original or Adapted): Marvyn Hamlisch
Editing: William Reynolds Costume Design: Edith Head
The film lost in 3 categories: Actor Robert Redford, Cinematography Robert Surtees, and Sound by Ronald K. Pierce and Robert Bertrand