The Sting

  • Title:  The Sting
  • Director:  George Roy Hill
  • Date:  1973
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar
  • Format:  Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ll get him anyway.”  — Johnny Hooker
“Why?”  — Henry Gondorff
” ‘Cause I don’t know enough about killing to kill him.”  — Johnny

“What was I supposed to do?  Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?”  — Doyle

The Sting is the original caper film.  Without The Sting, there is no Ocean’s 11 or it’s sequels either the original or the new ones, and there’s no White Collar, Leverage, or Hustle either.  But it’s a classic that stands on its own two feet as well, not simply as the film that establishes a sub-genre all by itself.  The film begins with Luther and Johnny, two con artists, working street cons.  As the film opens in Joliet, Illinois in 1936, the two con artists pull a switch, but unknown to them they’ve picked the wrong victim – a numbers runner for the Chicago Irish mob.  Initially, they are thrilled to pull a $11,000 con… but then one of the con artists, Luther, is killed, and Johnny knows that if he gets caught, the mob will kill him too.

Johnny travels up to Chicago and meets Henry Gondorff an old friend of Luther’s.  Gondoroff gathers a group of con artists together and they decide to pull a con on the mobster they blame for Luther’s death. Luther’s so well-known in the con artist underground that everyone wants to help to stick it to his killer where it hurts — in the wallet.

The film is set-up in sections:  The Set-Up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut Out, and The Sting — each with a beautifully designed title card.  And each section of the film is exactly what it says, as the con artists rope in and set-up their victim.  However, what makes The Sting a great and memorable film is the surprise ending… which I’m not going to spoil here.  If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about — and if you haven’t, it’s just not fair to spoil the surprise ending.  There are hints throughout the film, but it does come as a surprise the first time you see it and it really makes the movie.

This film also features a great partnership between the older, nearly washed-up con artist (Paul Newman) master of  the Big Con, and his new, young, apprentice (Robert Redford).  A number of  excellent character actors round out the cast.  Also, the film is set in the 1930s, which means great suits and hats but on the negative side — some very rough, inappropriate language.

Overall, a great film, especially if you are a fan of the caper film as a genre.  I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

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The Apartment

  • Title:  The Apartment
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1960
  • Genre:  Drama, Romantic Comedy, Classic
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Cast:  Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, David White
  • Format:  Black/White, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

The Apartment is a genre-stretching, masterwork directed by Billy Wilder.  Though billed as a comedy, and having a strong romantic comedy sub-plot, the main body of the film is very dramatic and almost depressing.  In a sense, rather than a Romantic Comedy — this film is Romantic Film Noir.

The film also puts paid to the idea that only women can be taken advantage of by their bosses in corporate society.  CC Baxter, “Bud”, to his friends, is a good guy — but in order to rise in the corporate world, he’s found a little secret — he lends out the use of his apartment to the advantaged jerks who happen to be over him in the corporate hierarchy, so they can fool around without their wives getting suspicious.  Whenever he tries to assert himself – the carrot of a promotion is held out, and Bud hands over his apartment key.  ‘Til one day he gets the call upstairs for what he thinks is a promotion – he gets the promotion, but only if he also allows the head boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), in on the use of his apartment.

Meanwhile, Bud has started to fall for the elevator girl, Ms. Fran Kubelik (MacLaine).  However, she confesses to him that she’s in love with the married man she’s been having an affair with.  On Christmas Eve, she and the Married Man, who turns out to be Bud’s boss (Sheldrake), have a fight – and she takes an overdose of sleeping pills in Bud’s apartment.  Bud comes home, finds her, gets his neighbor the doctor over, and rescues her.  What looks like the start of a promising relationship ends when her brother-in-law shows up and takes her home to her sister, after decking Bud.  Later, Bud decides to tell Sheldrake he wants to marry Ms. Kubelik, but before he can, Sheldrake announces his wife has left him after finding out about his affairs, so he’s going to take Fran.  He offers Bud an position as his assistant, deputy director.

Later, Fran and Bud run into each other in the lobby and Bud remarks, “Well, we both got what we wanted.  I have a corner office, and he left his wife for you.” (or words to that effect).  At New Year’s, Fran figures it all out, goes to find Bud who’s quit his job and may be thinking about quitting his life.  And they end-up together.

But unlike many fluffy romantic comedies, there’s more tragedy and drama in this movie than comedy or even romance.  And Wilder’s beautiful direction adds to the sense of urban isolation.  That is, how a person can be surrounded by people but be completely alone — as Bud, Fran, and even Sheldrake all are.  Scenes like Bud being alone in the office – with the white lights on the ceiling, and the endless identical desks, all stretching out into the unseen distance emphasize how alone Bud is.  Or the play of light on Fran’s face in the bar on New Year’s as she figures out just what a louse Skeldrake is.  Even the various infidelities referred to seem to emphasize the isolation of the characters.  And what can I say?  The film is written, produced, and directed by Billy Wilder – one of my favorite directors, ever.

The-Apartment_office_small

The cast is excellent.  Jack Lemmon really pulls off the character of a complete nebbish perfectly, and we cheer for him when he stands up to Skeldrake.  Fred MacMurray  is a complete slimeball (surprisingly for the guy later known for My Three Sons and tons of Disney flicks), though he’s not as traditionally bad (yet strangely sympathetic) as in Double Indemnity.  Shirley MacLaine, extremely young and a burnette, does a brilliant job playing an incredibly deep character – the movie is as much about her as it is about Bud.  Overall, a film that very much needs to be seen.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Austin Powers:  International Man of  Mystery