Released on Christmas Day, 1973, The Sting is a classic caper film directed by Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw. It was, in fact, one of the most popular films of the Seventies and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, for which it beat ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘The Exorcist’.
The Sting involves a convoluted plot, each stage of which is introduced by a title card – ‘The Set-Up’, ‘The Wire’, ‘The Hook’ and so on – reminiscient of the Saturday Evening Post covers painted by Norman Rockwell. In September, 1936, two con men, or grifters, Johnny Hooker (Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) con a mark out of $11,000, unaware that the money belongs to heavyweight mobster Doyle Lonnegan. Luther is subsequently murdered and Hooker flees to Chicago.
In the Windy City, he seeks out Henry Gondorff (Newman) as suggested by Coleman and, aided and abetted by a band of confidence tricksters, including Kid Twist (Harold Gould), they resurrect a tried-and-tested, but obsolete, con known as ‘The Wire’. Posing as Kelly, a disgruntled employee of a bogus Chicago bookmaker Shaw (Newman), Hooker convinces Lonnegan that he has an ‘inside man’ at Chicago Western Union, who can delay telegraphing horse racing results to bookmakers long enough to allow bets to be placed after the race has been run.
After several ‘convincers’, Lonnegan places $500,000 to win on a horse called Lucky Dan at the fake betting shop that has been constructed expressly for the purposes of the con. Just before the ‘off’, Twist, posing as inside man Les Harmon, appears and is shocked to hear that Lonnegan has failed to follow his instruction to ‘place it on Lucky Dan’ or, in other words, to bet Lucky Dan to finish second. As Lonnegan tries, and fails, to recover his money, accomplice Hickey (Dana Elba), posing as FBI agent Polk, leads a raid on the betting shop. In the ensuing chaos, Hooker and Gondorff are apparently shot dead and shady policeman Synder (Charles Durning) leads Donnegan away to safety. However, neither man has really been shot and they rise to riotous laughter.