The Sting (1973)

(On Cable TV, June 2018) If The Sting doesn’t play quite as well today as it did back in 1973, it’s largely its own fault—it was so influential that, having birthed an entire sub-genre of con movies, it finds itself imitated to the point of irrelevancy. This is not to say that the film isn’t worth a look—in between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the main roles (Redford being a touch too old, but who cares), some playful directing by George Roy Hill, and a rather charming recreation of mid-thirties Chicago, The Sting was and remains a top-notch crowd-pleaser. Where it fails is in keeping a sense of surprise. Even without having seen the film before, the ending is utterly predictable … not because it’s badly written (in fact, it was quite surprising to audiences at the time), but because the basic tenets of the entire ending have been endlessly duplicated by other lesser conman movies since then. Of course, the conman is in perfect control of the plot. Of course, the con is so big as to envelop even the structures in which the con operates. Of course, you have to confuse and whisk away the victim without them even suspecting the truth. Of course, even the authorities aren’t. Surprise: zero. But… Pleasure: quite high. Mixing memorable ragtime music, fancy scene transitions and even fancier title cards, The Sting is made for fun. It’s early enough in the post-Hays code to be cheerfully amoral, but not quite dedicated to the darkness that engulfed Hollywood cinema in the early seventies. 

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