"Dukey, if this thing blows up, the Feds will be the least of our problems."
— Kid Twist
The Sting is an iconiccon film released in 1973. It reunites Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director George Roy Hill with stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman.Set in 1930s Chicago, the film opens up with novice con Johnny Hooker and his mentor, Luther, as they pull off their latest sting. Unfortunately, they've bitten off more than they can chew this time; their latest victim has connections to Big Bad racketeer Doyle Lonnegan. When Lonnegan's goons rub out Luther and put a hit on Hooker's head, Hooker seeks out his mentor's friend, Henry Gondorff, a master of the "big con". Assembling their team, Hooker and Gondorff prepare to scam the big one out of Lonnegan.And just to complicate things, Hooker is being chased by a policeman and the band's got to make sure Lonnegan never even finds out he's been conned, otherwise he'll put hits on all of them.The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning seven (including Best Picture). It is also one of the biggest box office hits of all-time; when adjusted for inflation, it currently sits as the 19th-best domestic earner of all time according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
This film features examples of:
The Alcoholic: Subverted, Gondorff is introduced in the story during a heavy hangover but it's a one time instance and he is a Consummate Professional, despite Hooker's first impression.
The Assimilator: Conventional example in Lonnegan's modus operandi, he expands his criminal empire by learning the trades and insights of an illegal business to eventually take it over.
Awesome McCoolname: Kid Twist (Kid Twist!) wants to know who else is available for the big con:
Horse Face Lee, Slim Miller, Suitcase Murphy and the Big Alabama are in from New Orleans; Crying Jonesy and the Boone Kid from Denver; Dippy Burke and Limehouse Chappie from New York ...
Berserk Button: Doyle Lonnegan gets angry if you mispronounce his name (though he has the self-control to hold back for at least a little while).
Burlesque: Hooker's girlfriend stars in a burlesque show.
Catch Phrase: Doyle Lonnegan's "Ya folla?" (You follow?), used habitually enough to be something of a Verbal Tic.
Chekhov's Gun: A very quick one. When it's time to get ready to pull the Big Con, Hooker is seen putting something in his mouth while standing in front of his mirror. It's the blood bag that he uses to fake Blood from the Mouth at the climax.
The Con: One so good it cons the big one out of its audience!
The Con Within A Con: The initial plan is for Hooker to try and entice Lonnegan into wanting to pull a con on Gondorff posing as a bookie named Shaw.
Conman In Marks Clothing: Gondorff plays a Napier, an obnoxious bookie named Shaw whom Lonnegan is set to rip-off with inside help from Kelly (Hooker).
Confiscated Phone: Hooker pulls a woman making out of a call out of a pay phone booth in order to try to call Luther before he's murdered, then runs off to try and reach him. Hooker's friend is left behind, being swatted by the woman and her purse because she lost her nickel and wants it back.
Con Man: Many of the main characters. Erie and Hooker start in a lower, Hustler territory since they lack experience in the Long Con.
Con Men Hate Guns: Averted, Hooker would happily kill the villain in revenge for the murder of his friend Luther, but realizes that he doesn't know enough about killing people to successfully pull it off and opts for cheating him out of a fortune instead.
Hooker. Erie occasionally. Snyder is the regular target of their sarcastic quips.
Lonnegan -of all people- has his moments too; when he rubs Erie's nose in it regarding a losing tip and when he makes a jab about insulating his bodyguard from smart guys, lest he starts thinking for himself.
Death Glare: Lonnegan's common stance, prominent example towards the train attendant who vouched for Shaw (Gondorff), when Shaw shows up and is revealed to be a drunkard.
The Dreaded: Lonnegan, The Mark, to the point one fellow con man prefers money in advance over a cut of the winnings and another points out if the thing blows up, the Feds will be the least of our problems
Hooker: You are afraid of him.
Gondorff: Right down to my socks, buster.
Dream Team: There is a roster and a casting to assemble one, with a token novice too. Gondorff remarks he would be able to recruit a crew of three hundred con artists.
The Dragon: Floyd to his boss, The Big Bad Doyle Lonnegan. He's unafraid to disagree with Lonnegan, and even mildly argues with him.
Establishing Character Moment: Subverted with the main duo and with other characters; as befits a con film, few things are what they seem to be at first:
Hooker is in the middle of a short con, so he deliberately projects the image of a random and unsympathetic bystander. Some clues about his deception may be picked up in hindsight.
As mentioned above, Gondorff appears to be an alcoholic washout in his first appearance, but he is a Consummate Professional and one of the best con artists out there. Invoked in-universe a second time when Shaw comes across as a drunken slob to Lonnegan when the two first met.
Fake Brit: In-universe. Curly Jackson, a grifter from Baltimore who joins the con, masquerades as an Englishman.
Gag Penis: An old burlesque joke told by burlesque comic Leonard Barr. The punchline is, "Yeah, but this one's eating my popcorn!"
Get Thee to a Nunnery: The title. In old parlance, it was the final part of a con — the bit where the con men took the mark's money — and could be used metonymically for the whole con itself. Today, people tend to think of police sting operations. (Which is rather circular- the original Operation Sting was named for this movie.)
Hand of Death: Subverted; it's revealed that the hit man hired to rub out Hooker is named Salino. However, the ominous hands that show up every so often are those of the bodyguard Gondorff hired for Hooker. The bodyguard shoots Salino.
Important Haircut: Hooker has one (along with new clothes and a manicure) when he puts himself under the tutelage of Gondorff at the beginning the long con.
In Name Only: The very inferior sequel The Sting II starred Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis as characters with vaguely similar names to the ones played by Newman and Redford in the original: Gleason plays Fargo Gondorff and Davis plays a seemingly lobotomized Jake Hooker. Doyle Lonnegan still has his original name, but Oliver Reed plays him as an erudite bookworm, whereas Robert Shaw's Lonnegan would be more likely to beat someone with a book than actually read it.
Mistaken Identity: Lonnegan spends the entire movie sending people to kill Luther's partner Hooker (who he's never seen). Meanwhile, he's heavily involved with "Shaw's" turncoat "Kelly" (who the goons trying to kill Hooker have never seen). He never realizes that Hooker and "Kelly" are the same person.
MondeGreen: Invoked in the final bet with the horse Lucky Dan. "I said place! Place it on Lucky... That horse is gonna run second!"
Hooker: If Snyder knows about us, so does everybody else. He never gets anything first
Orphaned Punchline: During the burlesque scene, the first part of a background joke is not heard because Hooker is talking.
Percussive Pickpocket: While Doyle Lonnegan is walking through the train to the poker game, Billie (Gondorff's girlfriend) bumps into him and steals his wallet. He doesn't notice until after he loses big at the poker game and tries to take it out to pay off his debt.
Playing Drunk: Gondorff pretends to be drunk to justify acting offensively toward Doyle Lonnegan. To enhance his act he gargles with gin to get alcohol-laden breath and brings along a gin bottle cut with water to drink from.
Retirony: Luther is killed shortly after he tells Hooker how he'll use his share to go straight and support his family.
Reality Subtext: Robert Shaw, who plays Doyle Lonnegan, injured his knee just before the shooting began. He incorporated the resulting limp into his performance.
Revenge: Hooker's driving force against Lonnegan. Also the reason for Gondorff and his band, but more toned down to avoid unprofessionalism.
Robbing The Mob Bank: The opening Short Con; a team of con artists (Johnny Hooker, Luther Coleman and Joe Erie) inadvertently swindle a numbers runner for crime boss Doyle Lonnegan. Lonnegan assigns hit men to find and kill each of them, and the hit men appear and carry out attacks throughout the movie
Rooting for the Empire: In-universe example, Luther's wife is displeased about their kids rooting for the police against Machine Gun Kelly in a radio serial.
Searching the Stalls: Johnny Hooker is trying to escape a hit man trying to kill him. He goes into a restroom to hide. The hit man enters and starts opening doors to find him. He gets to the last stall and realizes there's a woman inside. He figures Hooker went out the window and does the same. It turns out Hooker was inside the stall with the woman — she was helping him.
Shameful Source Of Knowledge: Doyle Lonnegan tries to cheat Henry Gondorff with a stacked deck during a poker game, but Gondorff outsmarts him by switching out the cards he was given for better ones.
Floyd: We can't let him get away with that.
Lonnegan: What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?
Shout-Out: Hooker loses a bundle at a rigged roulette wheel that comes up 22 — the same number that comes up on the rigged roulette wheel in Casablanca.
Straight Edge Evil: Doyle Lonnegan is a sober country-club-member banking gentleman with no apparent interest in women and whose only vice is poker ... and he cheats. He's good at it too. His real money comes from his numbers racket, and he won't hesitate to murder anyone who cons him out of a single payment from a single runner on a single day of it.
The Tale: One of the named segments. Lonnegan is made to believe insider information about a Delayed Wire.
Talent Double: Gondorff's hands doing card tricks before the poker game are actually those of technical adviser and professional magician John Scarne.
Trouser Space: Johnny Hooker demonstrates trouser space when suggesting that a money courier should hide his money there. This was a trick. During the demonstration, Hooker switched the courier's money for a wad of plain paper. This con is called The Jamaican / Hankie switch.
Twist Ending: First, Lonnegan hires Salino to kill Hooker, and when Hooker is walking through an alley, smiles, seeing his girlfriend, a man behind Hooker pulls out a gun, points it, and shoots her. Turns out he's a body guard Gondorff hired to protect Hooker, and Hooker's girlfriend was actually Salino, the assassin who would have killed him. Second, the FBI guys bust into the gambling den to arrest Gondorff, and per their promise, let Hooker go. At this point, Gondorf shoots Hooker, and the FBI guy shoots Gondorff. The FBI guy has the cop rush Lonnegan out of the place. After they leave, Gondorff and Hooker get up, with blood stains like they've been shot. We then find out it was a scam to make both the cop and Lonnegan think they're both dead.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The story was inspired by real-life con games perpetrated by the brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man.