In the history of cinema, there are a few movies where the metaphorical stars align, and magic happens. The Sting from 1973 is one of these films.
Film critics of today can still see The Sting and thing that there is nothing that could be done to improve it but it was the result of a skilled crew and a lot of happy accidents. The biggest accidents were the casting. If you can imagine that the original cast was intended to be Jack Nicholson as Johnny Hooker, Peter Boyle as Henry Gondorff, and Laurance Olivier as Doyle Lonnegan. While each of those actors is iconic in their own way the eventual casting of Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Robert Shaw in those respective parts proved to be lightning in a bottle.
Initially, Redford turned down the role of Johnny Hooker but when he heard his good friend and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid co-star Paul Newman has signed on to the film he changed his mind. The chemistry between the men is the stuff of legend. The film had to be modified to accommodate them as Newman’s part was originally a small role for an out-of-shape and over-the-hill type which Paul was certainly not.
The director, George Roy Hill, wanted to keep the look of the film authentic so he brought in experts on film production of the 20s and 30s to implore film wipes, lighting, set design, title cards, and even had permission from the film’s studio (Universal) to use their old opener to make the film have that nostalgic feel from the first frame.
One of the other classic techniques that Hill implored was not casting very many extras. In the book, The Films of George Roy Hill from 1984 George said that he was inspired by the classic James Cagney gangster films as “no extras would be used in street scenes in those films: Jimmy Cagney would be shot down and die in an empty street. So I deliberately avoided using extras.”
The Sting won seven of the ten Acadamy Awards it was nominated for including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Story, and Best Music. It will go down as a legendary film that is a must-see for any fan of cinema.