The Stingis a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936 that involves a complicated plot by two professional grifters ( Paul Newman and Robert Redford ) to con a mob boss ( Robert Shaw ).The film was directed by George Roy Hill , who previously directed Newman and Redford in the westernButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Created by screenwriter David S. Ward , the story was inspired by real-life con games perpetrated by the brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his bookThe Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man.
The title phrase refers to the moment when a con artist finishes the "play" and takes the mark 's money. (Today the expression is mostly used in the context of law enforcement sting operations .) If a con game is successful, the mark does not realize he has been "taken" (cheated), at least not until the con men are long gone. The film is divided into distinct sections with old-fashioned title cards with lettering and illustrations rendered in a style reminiscent of theSaturday Evening Post. The film is noted for its musical score—particularly its main melody, " The Entertainer ", a piano rag by Scott Joplin , which was lightly adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch (and became a top-ten chart single for Hamlisch, when released as a single from the film's soundtrack). The film's success encouraged a surge of popularity and critical acclaim for Joplin's work.
The Stingwas hugely successful at the 46th Academy Awards , being nominated for 10 Oscars and winning seven, including Best Picture , Best Director , and Best Original Screenplay .
Johnny Hooker, a grifter from Depression-era Joliet, Illinois , cons $11,000 in cash from an unsuspecting victim, with the aid of his partners Luther Coleman and Joe Erie. Buoyed by the windfall, Luther announces his retirement and advises Hooker to seek out an old friend, Henry Gondorff, in Chicago, to teach him “the big con.” Unfortunately, their victim was a numbers racket courier for vicious crime boss Doyle Lonnegan. Corrupt Joliet police Lieutenant William Snyder confronts Hooker, revealing Lonnegan's involvement and demanding part of Hooker’s cut. Having already spent his cut, Hooker pays Snyder in counterfeit bills. Lonnegan's men murder Luther, and Hooker flees for his life to Chicago.
Gondorff, a once-great con-man now hiding out from the FBI , is initially reluctant to take on the dangerous Lonnegan. However, Gondorff relents and decides to resurrect an elaborate and supposedly obsolete scam known as "the wire", using a large number of con artists to create a phony off-track betting parlor.
Aboard the opulent 20th Century Limited , Gondorff, posing as boorish Chicago bookie "Shaw", buys his way into Lonnegan's private high-stakes poker game and out-cheats Lonnegan, winning $15,000 from him and making Lonnegan furious. Hooker, posing as Shaw's disgruntled employee "Kelly", is sent to collect the winnings and instead convinces Lonnegan that he wants to take over Shaw's operation. Kelly reveals that he has a partner named Les Harmon (actually fellow con man “Kid Twist”) in the Chicago Western Union office, who will allow them to win bets on horse races by past-posting .
Meanwhile, Snyder has tracked Hooker to Chicago, but his pursuit is thwarted when he is summoned by undercover FBI agents led by Agent Polk, who orders him to assist in their scheme to arrest Gondorff using Hooker. Additionally, Lonnegan has grown frustrated with his men's inability to find and kill Hooker. Unaware that “Kelly” is Hooker, he demands that "Salino," his best assassin, kill Hooker. A mysterious figure with black leather gloves is soon seen following and observing Hooker.
Kelly's connection appears effective, as Harmon provides Lonnegan with the winner of one horse race and the trifecta of another race. Lonnegan agrees to finance a $500,000 bet at Shaw's parlor to break Shaw and gain revenge. Shortly thereafter, Snyder captures Hooker and brings him before Agent Polk. Polk forces Hooker to betray Gondorff by threatening to incarcerate Luther Coleman's widow.
The night prior to the sting, Hooker sleeps with Loretta, a waitress at a local restaurant. As Hooker leaves the building the next morning, he sees Loretta walking toward him. The black-gloved man appears behind Hooker and shoots Loretta dead, later revealing her to be "LorettaSalino", Lonnegan's hired killer. The black-gloved man had been hired by Gondorff to protect Hooker.
Armed with Harmon’s tip to "place it on Lucky Dan", Lonnegan makes a $500,000 bet at Shaw’s parlor on Lucky Dan to win. As the race begins, Harmon arrives and expresses shock at Lonnegan's bet, explaining that his tip meant that Lucky Dan would finishsecond. A panicked Lonnegan rushes the teller window and demands his money back. Just then, Agent Polk, Lieutenant Snyder, and a dozen FBI officers storm the parlor. Polk confronts Gondorff, then tells Hooker he is free to go. Gondorff, reacting to the betrayal, shoots Hooker in the back; Polk then shoots Gondorff and orders Snyder to get Lonnegan away from the crime scene. With Lonnegan and Snyder safely away, Hooker and Gondorff rise amid cheers and laughter. Agent Polk is actually Hickey, a con man, running a con atop Gondorff's con to divert Snyder and provide a solid "blow off" to Gondorff's con. Hooker and Gondorff depart as the other con men strip the room of its contents.