The Sting, starring Robert Redford & Paul Newman: About the classic movie, plus vintage interviews

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Vintage movie The Sting - Newman and Redford

“The Sting” brings fun to an old con game (1973)

By Hunter George – The Miami Herald (Miami, Florida) Dec 26, 1973

A con game has to be a well-ordered affair if it is to come off. There must be precision, confidence and a lot of spunk. First, there is the hook, when the sucker becomes interested in the possibility of getting something for nothing.

Then there is the setup, in which he is carried along with the plan, believing he is going to wind up a cheap winner. Finally, there is the sting — the abrupt ending of the game with the sucker realizing he has been taken by his own avarice.

The Sting - Lobby card

With such orchestration does David S. Ward’s “The Sting” come off, in no small part due to the crisp directing of George Roy Hill and the acting of Paul Newman and Robert Redford — the trio that delivered us of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

These people simply seem to be able to mesh like parts of a machine, reacting smoothly and with an understated humor that propels the viewer effortlessly along.

Redford plays a 1930s two-bit, streetwise hustler who, teaming with an old black man, pulls the money-in-the-handkerchief switch on a fellow in a small Midwest town.

To his surprise, the handkerchief turns out to contain $10,000; the fellow, it seems, was a runner for the mob. To nobody’s surprise, the mob boss, played with cool detachment by Robert Shaw (“The Hireling”), gets upset. He has the black man killed and goes looking for Redford.

Vintage movie The Sting

Redford, meanwhile, heads for Chicago, and looks up the world’s best con artist (Newman), who has been down on his luck for a while because of all the heat.

With the rest of the con population sufficiently incensed at the killing, it is not difficult to recruit enough people to set up a phony bookie joint and entice the mob chieftain into making a half-million-dollar wager.

The manner in which they go about this is a happy blend of suspense and outright hilarity. Newman (who was coached in his card-dealing scenes by con-consultant John Scarne) is the original cool hand, the unflappable pro.

Redford seems a little stiff in the beginning, but becomes convincing in the role of the upstart amateur. His silly, boyish grin is perfect for this part.

With title pages dividing sequences and a ragtime score by Scott Joplin (adapted by Marvin Hamlisch), the film becomes a con game itself. Tight film editing hurtles the viewer into the finale, and just when he thinks he has things figured out he discovers instead that he has been conned — not once, but twice. But then, that’s how the game is played.


Talking with Paul Newman isn’t any cinch — he’s co-starring with Redford in “The Sting”

By Beth Gillin Pombeiro – The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania) Sunday, December 16, 1973

New York — Paul Newman brought one of his two famous trademarks, the icy blue stare, to a publicity lunch that Universal Pictures gave to tout Newman’s starring role in “The Sting.”

Paul Newman - The Sting classic film

Joanne Woodward’s husband, originator of that now-famous phrase, “Why should I go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?” did not perform his other trademark gesture, the doubled-over stomach clutch.

One wouldn’t have blamed him if he had. Publicity lunches are dreary affairs, during which The Actor is forced to hop from table to table and make unfailingly polite chitchat with half a dozen reporters at a time.

This one took place in New York’s Gaslight Club, a dim establishment with portraits of Reubenesque nudes and stuffed elks’ heads on the walls, staffed by waitresses in skimpy costumes who look like Playboy Club rejects. In honor of the Christmas season, the nudes, the elks and the waitresses were festooned with tinsel garlands.

It was an unlikely setting for a man with a reputation as a conservative, pipe-and-slippers homebody who takes his profession seriously and jealously guards his privacy. Newman did not look at all comfortable.

Poker scene from The Sting

“I don’t want to say he’s too big for this sort of thing,” said Jimmy Glaser, a spokesman for Universal Pictures, who described Newman’s appearance as “a real coup.”

“I’ve known people who are really big, like Gregory Peck, who would do this all the time,” Glaser continued. “Maybe he’s got a piece of the picture. Gregory Peck would always do it if he had a piece of the picture.”

“He’s shy,” said Gerry Evans, another Universal publicist. “He just doesn’t think he has anything to say that people are interested in. In our profession, that’s not unusual.”

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“Paul Newman is the most outgoing, happy-go-lucky, easy-going guy in the world,” said Dimitra Arliss, who has one of the two featured female roles in “The Sting,” during a telephone interview following the luncheon.

“He loves jokes; he’s a real prankster. And he’s a great beer drinker. He’d drink beer and eat popcorn all day long on the set. He has his own popcorn popper, and he took it everywhere, and he made popcorn for everybody, big cardboard boxes full of it.

“He’s totally unaffected, but his private life is his private life, and that’s it.”

Newman won’t sign autographs, in principle. The interview he granted “Rolling Stone” last Spring was the first he’d agreed to in six years.

Wouldn’t you know it? In that interview, private, publicity-wary Paul Newman managed to offend the entire populace of Bridgeport, Conn., and incur the wrath of all its editorial writers when he said, “Even the mayor calls this place the armpit of New England.”

“Both the mayor and I were misquoted,” said Newman evenly, when he arrived with the roast beef at our table. “What the mayor said was that a lot of people CALL Bridgeport the armpit of New England.”

Scenes from the classic 1973 movie The Sting (1)

Newman was asked about his celebrated appearance on the White House “enemies list.”

“It’s the biggest reward I’ve ever gotten,” he grinned. “I don’t see how Nixon can survive, but I’ve said that before, and he’s still around.

“I hope they hang the — sonuvabitch,” he blurted good-naturedly, while the Universal Pictures flack at his side paled visibly.

In The Sting, Redford steals the show

Someone suggested that Newman’s co-star in “The Sting,” Robert Redford, really has the plum role. It was a polite way of saying that Redford steals the show, which he does.

Newman flinched momentarily, indicating perhaps that he’d heard this at previous tables, and said defensively, “I’d say there’s a lot more grit in my part. Redford carries a lot of luggage in the movie.”

It was a polite way of saying that Redford, unlike Newman, is in almost every scene.

Redford and Newman play a pair of charming conmen (in movies, at least, conmen are always lovable) who set out to chisel a godfather figure played by Robert Shaw. In a refreshing change of pace, the godfather is Irish.

“I think the film’s a corker, a very juicy movie, with a great feeling for a particular time in history,” said Newman.

Why this sudden interest among moviemakers in the Depression era, which wasn’t exactly glamorous for those forced to live through it?

“Took at women’s fashions,” said Newman, by way of explanation. “There’s a great nostalgia thing going. Besides, writers have so exhausted Kitchen Drama, the kind of thing Paddy Chayefsky was doing in the fifties on television. Here is an era that hasn’t been so exhaustively scrutinized.”

Newman modestly disclosed that he did all his own card-shuffling in the poker hustle scene. “I’m a natural card player,” he said. I’ve always been a good…”

“Cheat?” someone asked.

“Yeah, a cheat. I’m a good crook. Not in my income taxes, though,” he said slyly. “Only at cards.”

Then Paul Newman sighed that these are not good times for actors, that there are no good scripts around, and that he completed this film in March or April, which means he’s been out of work for ten months.

“It leads to a lot of whining in the bathroom at night,” he confessed.

Miss Arliss, who is appearing in “The Rose Tattoo” in Philadelphia, recalled that shortly after making “The Sting,” she attended a Broadway play, and who should come walking down the aisle but Mr. and Mrs. Newman.

“It was like Moses parting the Red Sea,” said Miss Arliss. “I mean, Jesus Christ could have walked in, and the reaction wouldn’t have been greater. Nobody watched the show. Everybody just stared at Paul. This is what he has to live with.”


The Sting movie trailer


The Sting’s Robert Redford is his own man

By George Waldo – The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) Apr il 16, 1974

LONDON — Before returning to his native Los Angeles to make “Waldo Pepper,” Robert Redford came to London to finish “The Great Gatsby,” a film which along with his Oscar-winning “The Sting” and box office buster “The Way We Were,” will establish him as the screen’s No. 1 male star.

Stretching out his long legs one Sunday afternoon, Redford took a good look at his career and his own values.

Scenes from the classic 1973 movie The Sting (2)

While it has become fashionable for some actors to attack American institutions and way of life, Redford sums up another sort of individual: he is a rebel who has managed to live his own life in his own way and consistently play on film a variety of American characters that also reveal his own complex personality.

“The real America,” he says, “is the place where a man can make his own standards, find his own achievements, and not count the cost. That’s what appealed to me most about ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’

“Here were two characters that enjoyed the kind of freedom that means the most to me — their humor and devil-may-care attitude while civilization slowly spread over what had once been our Wild West.

“My interest in ‘Downhill Racer’ was that in part this was the story of the ambition that drives a sport champion on but can also damage his character and personal relationships. I think there is too much stress on winning in the States.

“‘Little Fauss and Big Halsy’ was another American story in that it showed how some people let speed and machinery get all out of proportion. ” ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ I really identified with, because it was about a mountain man who prefers wild beasts to the benefits of civilization, and it also showed how violence only begets more violence.

“‘Tell Them Willie Boy is Here’ examined the plight of the American Indian, something that concerns me deeply. And, finally, ‘The Candidate’ shows what can happen to an idealistic young politician who is sucked into the rat race of a campaign.”

Evidently, Redford himself feels the need to escape from the sort of American life that is portrayed in most of these films. He found an isolated site for his real home and then built the house himself.

“The way I live with being a celebrity is not to live with it,” he said. “I live near Provo, Utah, more than 40 miles from the nearest town. It’s like a natural game reserve with cougar, elk, wolves, grouse, and even a bear.”

Scenes from the classic 1973 movie The Sting (3)

Although he has a big apartment in New York City and a small holiday house in Spain, he spends as much time as possible there in Utah.

“Building my place with the help of an Indian friend made me do a lot of thinking about ‘civilization’ and the relationship of humans to their surroundings,” he said. “I have never really liked Hollywood as a place to live and this way I get away and come back, refreshed.”

At Van Nuys (Calif.) High School and later at the University of Colorado, Redford loved all sports and participated in football, baseball, climbing, hunting and skiing.

But at college, he also decided that he wanted to become a painter, and painting became the great love of his life. Thus when he was 20, he wandered for more than a year around the art galleries and museums of Europe, living in Paris for four months, and in Florence for five.

Out of funds, he made his way back to the States to continue his studies in art.

“I might have made it as an artist,” he recalls, “if one of my teachers hadn’t suggested that I attend the American Academy to get a theater background for my art.” Just as painting has taken over from sports, acting soon became the most important factor in his life.

He began with a walk-on part in “Tall Story” on Broadway, and made his first film, “War Hunt,” in 1961. Since then, his film career has been remarkably varied, because he is careful to choose parts that offer him a challenge.

The Sting - movie cover

“Being an actor means paying your dues in the beginning,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything more humiliating than cast calls — they’re more like cattle calls. But my theater work helped me in films, where I believe in taking from other actors and always trying to improvise a scene with them.

“But improvisation can stick out; it must be blended. In ‘Gatsby,’ I was very restricted to the lines, and so the problem was to make it look improvised. I found the part of Jay Gatsby very difficult, because he was too representative, too little flesh and blood.

“Although I’ve never been a joiner, I guess the Oscars are a good idea, although it doesn’t always seem to recognize the best performance by an actor. There is a need for that event, as the American people seem to identify with the voting, although, in fact, it’s just a few members who actually vote.

“Personally, I never see my films on the screen; it all seems so dead, so finished. And in most movies today, all you get is everyone taking their clothes off, and that really bores me.”

Married 16 years ago to Lola Van Wagenen, Redford has been careful to keep his family life out of the limelight. He and his wife have three children, Shauna, 14, Jamie, 12, and Amy, four. He recently acquired a 2400-acre ski resort in Utah which he plans to develop for those who like good natural skiing like me.”

“I guess the hardest thing to do in a career and in life is to remain your own man,” he says. “From the time I first became an actor, I decided never to work just to work. It’s not so much the principle as it is just the way I am.”

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