Director George Roy Hill and art designer Henry Bumstead went to great lengths to recreate the look and feel of the Thirties for the film, with location shooting in Los Angeles, Chicago and Pasadena. Each chapter of the story is announced with a title card done up in vintage style, and key changes of scenes are achieved with a "wipe", an editing technique of the time that was like an invisible hand running an eraser over the screen and cutting to the next image. Cinematographer Surtees' color palette was a wash of yellows, beiges and sepias that reinforced the film's antique feel. Never mind that the piano rags of Scott Joplin would have been more appropriate to the pre-WWI era; they lend a great deal to the film's overall charm and made Marvin Hamlisch a very popular film score arranger.
Screenwriter David Ward was originally slated to direct The Sting, but wary of working with a novice, Robert Redford didn't climb on board until it was announced that Hill would direct. Hill, Redford and Newman had enjoyed great success a few years earlier with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting would capitalize on much of the same easygoing buddy-movie rapport between the two.
It would be hard to imagine Richard Boone in the role of Doyle Lonnegan, but that's what the producers' original idea was before setting their sights on the burly Robert Shaw. Incidentally, Lonnegan's pronounced limp wasn't an affectation; Shaw injured his ankle during the shoot and decided to make the limp part of Lonnegan's character. By the same token, the script originally called for Henry Gondorff to be a more seedy individual and much more of a character part. On reading the script, though, Newman announced that he wanted the role, so Gondorff was overhauled somewhat for the more suave Paul Newman.
The talents all come together for a satisfying, entertaining movie that nearly bewilders the audience as much as the suckers who are hoodwinked by Gondorff and Hooker in their elaborate scam. In the hands of a less able director, the movie may have been a confusing mess, but Hill leads the viewer through the story's Byzantine twists and turns without ever telegraphing the outcome. Coupled with the charisma of its stars, his direction and handling of the story makes The Sting a delight to watch nearly thirty years later.
Producer: Tony Bill, Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips
Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: David W. Maurer, David S. Ward
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead
Costume Design: Edith Head
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Original Music: Scott Joplin, adaptations by Marvin Hamlisch
Principal Cast: Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. William Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), Robert Earl Jones (Luther Coleman)
C-129m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Jerry Renshaw