This classic film has a complicated, yet refreshing, story to tell. It helps if you know the game of Poker and the language of the confidence man, such as his calling his target or patsy “the mark.” These episodes keep you on your toes and add to the enjoyment of this spectacular film.
“The Sting” was nominated for ten Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. In addition, Scott Joplin’s song “The Entertainer” was used as the theme music in the film. Pianist Marvin Hamlisch’s adaptation of the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and Adaptation. It triggered a revival of Scott Joplin’s music which was written in the first decade of the 20th Century.
“The Sting” reunited Robert Redford and Paul Newman who starred in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” four years previously. They act so well together; sometimes it just takes a nod, a wink, or a smile to bring each other’s character to life.
$1000 Bill - Wikimedia
We are first introduced to grafter Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) who worked closely with his friend and mentor Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones). They managed to fleece a character of $11,000, which confirmed Luther’s decision to retire from the con game. He recommended that Hooker should meet Henry Gondorff in Chicago who would introduce him to the “Big Con.” Regrettably, the man they fleeced was a henchman of crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). A corrupt police officer, Lieutenant William Snyder (Chares Durning) was a friend of Lonnegan and demanded that Hooker return the $11,000. When Johnny Hooker gave him an envelope filled with toilet paper rather than paper money, Lonnegan had Luther Coleman murdered in revenge. Hooker left town and went to Chicago to look up Henry Gondorff.
The Big Con
When he met Henry Gondorff, Hooker learned about an elaborate scheme which Henry has used in which he sets up a phony betting parlor with a phony caller relaying the races and their outcomes that are occurring throughout the country. Through the help of an insider at the Western Union office, the fake betting parlor received the results before the rest of the world, and was able to pass the information on to special customers of the betting parlor. A group of men who were friends of Luther played the staff and customers of the betting parlor.
Robert Redford - Wikimedia
Gondorff Gets a Seat at the Poker Table
In order to lure Doyle Lonnegan to the betting parlor, Gondorff planned to join Lonnegan at his private poker party which he held on the 20th Century Limited train as it traveled between New York and Chicago. Henry Gondorff’s girlfriend Billie (Eileen Brennan) was on the train and managed to steal Doyle Lonnegan’s wallet containing $20,000, and to drop it in Hooker’s lap as she passed through his car. Gondorff was able to get a seat at Doyle’s private table, and introduced himself as Shaw. In the first game, Lonnegan raised with two pair, but Gondorff beat him by showing three tens. In the second game, Lonnegan’s bodyguard Floyd somehow managed to stack the deck of cards in order to give Lonnegan four 9’s and give Gondorff four 3’s which caused both of them to build up the pot. When Gondorff showed his hand, though, he had four jacks, beating Lonnegan’s four 9’s, infuriating the other cheater. Gondorff won $15,000.
Hooker Befriends Lonnegan
When Gondorff left the game, Hooker was able to get his seat at Lonnegan’s table, and introduced himself as Kelly. He made up a story and told Lonnegan that he wanted to take over Shaw’s operation and could use Lonnegan’s help in doing so. Kelly told Lonnegan that Shaw had his $20,000 because he sent a woman to steal his wallet. Kelly had a plan to get Lonnegan’s money back. Lonnegan agreed to meet Kelly at Klein’s Drug Store the next day.
Paul Newman - Wikimedia
A Tip on a Horse Race
When Lonnegan showed up at Klein’s, Hooker (Kelly) told him a guy would call the pay phone at Klein’s and would give him the name of a horse to bet. Hooker gave Lonnegan $2000 to bet on the horse. The phone caller told Lonnegan to play Blue Note to win the 5th race at Narraganset. He came with his “apes” to the betting parlor and placed his bet. Blue Note won by a nose and paid 7 to 1.
Now that he had Lonnegan’s trust, Hooker invited him back to the betting parlor, where Lonnegan brought $500,000, which at 4:1 would make him two million dollars on a race that had already been run. At Klein’s Drug Store, Lonnegan got the phone call telling him to place his money on “Lucky Dan” in the 3rd race at Riverside Park.
Hooker’s Life is in Danger
The night before the Sting, Hooker visited a waitress named Loretta at her apartment. The next day, she approached him on the street and was shocked when a black-gloved man appeared and shot the waitress. He informed Hooker that Loretta had a gun and was about to shoot him, but Gondorff had hired the black-gloved man to look after Hooker.
Eileen Brennan - Wikimedia
“Lucky Dan” Came in Second
Lonnegan and his henchman Floyd showed up at the betting parlor. The games had begun. J. J. Singleton (Ray Walston) was the caller, set up in another room to simulate the real thing. Lonnegan handed the teller his 500 grand, betting on “Lucky Dan” to win. When the race was over, “Lucky Dan” came in second rather than first. The caller at Klein’s Drug Store had told him to “place” his money on “Lucky Dan,” which meant to bet that the horse would come in second. Lonnegan did not understand the subtle instruction.
All hell broke loose. The FBI was involved and the corrupt policeman, Lieutenant Snyder was also there. Gunfire was part of the action. The ending, the “Real Sting,” will not be revealed here. It was such a fun movie to watch. It has never lost its charm, and its equal has never been seen on the screen.