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Film / The Sting

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"Dukey, if this thing blows up, the Feds will be the least of our problems."
Kid Twist

The Sting is an iconic con film released in 1973. It reunites Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director George Roy Hill with stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The supporting cast includes Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, and Dana Elcar.

September, 1936: In Joliet, Illinois, novice con man Johnny Hooker (Redford) pulls off a classic "pigeon drop" scam, along with his partner Joe Erie (Jack Kehoe) and their mentor Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones). Unfortunately, they've bitten off more than they can chew this time; it seems their victim was a courier for ruthess Big Bad racketeer Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw). After Lonnegan's goons rub out Luther and take a hit out on Hooker's head, he goes to Chicago, where he seeks out his late mentor's friend Henry Gondorff (Newman), a master of the "big con". Assembling their team, Hooker and Gondorff prepare to avenge Luther by scamming the big one out of Lonnegan.

Just to complicate matters, Hooker is being chased both by Lonnegan's shadowy hit man Salino and by corrupt Joliet policeman Snyder (Durning), who demands a cut of the money taken from Lonnegan. And all the while, the team has to make sure Lonnegan never finds out he's being 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 It is also a film best gone into blind, so it's best to watch it before reading this page!

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. He later pretends to be one while gambling with Lonnegan as "Mr Shaw," using gin that's mostly water so that he doesn't actually get drunk.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The final con hinges on the fact that you can place a bet for a horse to place (i.e., come in 2nd).
  • Arc Words: "The big con", referring both to the nested plots of the ever-more-complex scheme, and the supreme moment of revenge over Lonegan.
  • Asshole Victim: Mottola, the mob courier that Hooker and Luther con in the opening of the film. It's hard to feel sorry for his getting scammed out of $10,000 considering he thought he was taking Luther for 5 grand. And laughing about it.
  • 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.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: When police lieutenant Snyder walks into the Chicago bar where the local Con Artists hang out, all of the bar patrons fall silent because they don't recognize him and believe he may be a cop.
  • Batman Gambit: All of the cons rely on the mark behaving in a manner they're expected to.
    • Hooker and Luther expected Mottola to stick around to offer aid to Luther so that he could get conned into handing over his cash.
    • Lonnegan could have backed out at any time or done something the con artists didn't expect to see through the charade.
  • 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).
  • Big Bad: Doyle Lonnegan.
  • The Big Board: With horse racing odds and results.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The protagonists are con men who swindle people for a living, but their antagonists are worse; a scummy courier, a corrupt brutal cop and a ruthless gangster.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Luther Coleman, unfortunately runs afoul of this trope.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Hooker fakes this at the end as part of the big con.
  • Booked Full of Mooks: Master con man Henry Gondorff engineers a plan to fleece thuggish racketeer Doyle Lonnegan in revenge for the slaying of Luther Coleman. The con involves an underground betting parlor where the race results are held up while the odds are shifted. The whole place is staffed with almost every grifter in the midwest, essential to control all of Lonnegan's perceptions. Even the federal marshals that arrive to shut down Gondorff's parlor are actually fellow con men armed with blanks.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Lonnegan takes one of these to bet at the con.
  • Bringing in the Expert: After Hooker and his partners con one of Lonnegan's numbers runners out of the money he was carrying, Lonnegan puts out a hit on them. When two of his underlings fail to kill Hooker, Lonnegan has the assassin Salino assigned to get rid of him.
  • Burlesque: Hooker's girlfriend is shown performing in a Burlesque show. Yes, she's a stripper.
  • Card Sharp: Gondorff demonstrates his skill against Lonnegan as the setup for the big con. (The card manipulations in the film are actually performed by John Scarne.)
  • Catchphrase: Doyle Lonnegan's "Ya folla?" (You follow?), used habitually enough to be something of a Verbal Tic.
  • Character Tics: Johnny Hooker has many tics, including the way he holds a cup of coffee and the way he throws one shoulder back.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A very quick one. When Hooker and Gondorff get ready for the Sting, you can see them place their fake blood packs.
    • If you look while he's getting ready, you can see Gondorff's blood pack, as well.
  • Commonality Connection: While the con men are planning to pull a scam on Doyle Lonnegan, J.J. Singleton mentions that Lonnegan came from a place called Five Points. Later on, when Lonnegan asks Hooker where he's from, he says that he came from Five Points in the hope that it will cause Lonnegan to trust him.
  • Complexity Addiction: Salino's plan to become a Love Interest to Hooker so she (and only she) can kill him. She starts it by posing as a waitress and could have killed him several times throughout the film, even while Hooker was sleeping, or allowed Lonnegan's goons to capture him at one point, and sure enough when she finally tries she is identified and shot, on an open street, by the bodyguard Gondorff secretly hired for Hooker. Partially justified though in that there were other witnesses to Hooker staying at her place, rendering assassination at that moment risky.
  • The 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.
    • The term "big store" is used to describe what they need to rent, and later pay for: an empty basement office/store in order to convert it into a betting parlor.
  • Con Man: Many of the main characters. Erie and Hooker start in a lower, Hustler territory since they lack experience in the 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.
  • 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.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Subverted. After Hooker pulls off a big con at the start of the film, he takes out a woman with a promise of showering her with luxuries during the evening (Specifically, that he will spend $50 on her). However, he blows the entire take on a single (rigged) roulette spin, and she leaves in disgust at the wasted evening.
  • Cool Train: Gondorff takes Lonnegan in a high-stakes poker game aboard the 20th Century Limited.
  • Counterfeit Cash: After Hooker blows through his entire cut from a successful con in an afternoon, he's forced to pay Lt Snyder off with marked money when the latter comes looking for a bribe. It's used against him later.
  • Criminal Procedural: A team of con artists setting up shop to scam a racketeer.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The soundtrack did a lot to make Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" popular among people unfamiliar with ragtime. Unknown to many viewers, the music was anachronistic for the time period portrayed; ragtime's heyday was circa 1900 and was pretty much completely forgotten in the 1930s.
  • Dating Catwoman: Loretta, the waitress, who saves Hooker's life and with whom he then spends the night, turns out to be the feared hired killer Loretta Salino, who all along intended to kill him herself.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • 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 by Recognition: A variant where the victim actually mentions the name. After a mook chases Johnny and loses him in a back alley, he turns around and notices Salino who is positioned offscreen behind the camera. Then shots ring out and the mook goes down dead.
  • 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.
  • Decoy Protagonist: One of the first characters seen on screen, Mottola.
  • Detective Mole: The "FBI agents" who assist Lieutenant Snyder are an integral part of the con.
  • Dirty Cop: Lt. Snyder... Counterfeit Cash notwithstanding.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lonnegan is not the kind of man who accepts being fooled, in any way, shape or form. He makes clear to Floyd that he would kill a man who he considers a very personal friend if that man beat him at a golf game by cheating and he orders the manhunt of the con artists who took just one of his number racket envelopes (and the dude who let himself be robbed).
  • 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.
  • The Dragon: Floyd to his boss, The Big Bad Doyle Lonnegan. He's unafraid to disagree with Lonnegan, and even mildly argues with him.
  • Episode Title Card: Each named act is introduced by a hand-drawn title card.
  • 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 bystander. Some clues about his deception may be picked up in hindsight.
    • 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.
    • Played very straight with Lonnegan, who casually talks to his Dragon while playing golf in an upstate New York club that he will kill anybody who tries to dupe, mock, or steal from him in any way whatsoever (even the long-time friend that he's playing golf with) and to put more effort into finding the men who stole from him to Make an Example of Them; showcasing that his sophistication and straight-edgedness are just a mask for a Hair-Trigger Temper, Disproportionate Retribution, kill-happy brute (and, quite justifiably, The Dreaded).
  • Exact Words: One of the key ways they make sure Lonnegan doesn't figure out he's been conned, along with the fake feds busting in and the real cop hustling him away. Kid Twist tells Lonnegan he said to bet on Lucky Dan to place - that is, come in second or better - rather than win, but by then it's too late to change the bet. Subverted in that his actual exact words were "place it on Lucky Dan." . Some dubbed version get around this by playing with the ambiguity of the phrase "second Riverside Park race" vs "second [pause], Riverside Park race".
  • Fake Brit: In-universe. Curly Jackson, a grifter from Baltimore who joins the con, specializes in masquerading as an Englishman.
  • Faking the Dead: Both Hooker and Gondorff during the sting.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Lonnegan's courier/Hooker and Luther's mark, in the opening.
  • Fixing the Game:
    • Henry Gondorff joins Doyle Lonnegan's poker game aboard a Chicago-bound train, and he's on a run. Donegan tries to use a loaded deck after a break, and when hands are called, he has four nines. Initially, Gondorff was dealt four threes, but when he shows his hand, he has four Jacks.
    • Hooker loses $3,000 on a fixed roulette spin.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Hooker is a con artist, but his wits do not apply beyond his profession and he engages in ruinous Suspicious Spending, losing his share in an afternoon. He becomes aware of it so in the end he forfeits his share.
  • Foreshadowing: Albeit brief. J.J. Singleton warns Gondorff before the poker game that Lonnegan likes to rig four-of-a-kind hands with low cards for his opponent versus "eights or nines." During the actual game, that information obviously sets the alarm bells going for Gondorff when he's dealt four threes, and allows him to settle on the higher four of a kind in Jacks, since he knows the highest hand Lonnegan rigs for himself is nines.
    • Also, After Gondorff hears that Lt. Snyder is stalking Hooker, Gondorff says Snyder is a problem that they'll need to deal with....Then we never actually see him do anything. However, shortly after that scene, "Agent Polk" and his "FBI team" show up and recruit Snyder, which may tip off first-time viewers who are paying close attention that there's more to "Agent Polk" than meets the eye.
  • 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.)
  • The Great Depression: Chicago 1936; why the Universal Studios logo of that time was used.
  • Handbag of Hurt: After Hooker yanks a woman out of a phone booth, the woman hits both Hooker and his partner with her purse.
  • Hand of Death: Subverted; it's revealed that the hit man hired to rub out Hooker is named Salino. However, the ominous black-gloved hands that show up every so often are those of the bodyguard Gondorff hired for Hooker. The bodyguard shoots Salino.
  • Hand Signals: The Con Artist recognition signal and Dukie's "stop" sign.
  • Hollywood Silencer: A silenced revolver appears at one point.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Billie, the madam who runs a whorehouse and carousel is Gondorff's girlfriend, who apparently loves him.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: The film occasionally uses an artsy wipe, such as a side-to-side wipe in which the transition follows a merry-go-round horse.
  • Illegal Gambling Den: The initial "pigeon drop" scam nets the week's take from one of Lonnegan's illegal gambling dens. Later, Hooker and Gondorff set up their own illegal gambling den for the big con.
  • 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.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After almost getting ambushed by two hitmen waiting at his apartment, Hooker goes directly to the betting parlour and pours himself a drink.
  • Inexplicable Cornered Escape: Johnny flees from an armed thug sent by the vengeful Big Bad, running into an alley behind a diner, which presents him with a dead end. The gunman is only moments away from cornering and killing Johnny then and there. Apparently, adrenaline gave Johnny enough strength to lift a steel manhole cover, and escape into the sewer below.
  • An Insert: When Henry Gondorff is doing card tricks before the poker game, the hands doing the tricks are actually those of John Scarne, famous magician and expert on gambling and card manipulation.
  • In Name Only: The very inferior 1983 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.
  • The Irish Mob: Strangely, in post-Capone Chicago.
  • Iris Out: The movie ends with one.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: We know we're watching a con, then the movie cons the audience into thinking (1) Hooker had agreed to turn Gondorff in to the FBI; (2) Hooker and Gondorff were killed until we see that it was all a setup.
  • Karmic Thief: The Con Men scam a mobster who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
  • Keep the Reward: A variation in the end, Hooker forfeits his share because he wasn't in it for the money and he reckons he would blow it anyway.
  • Killed Offscreen: Mottola (the money runner Hooker's crew steals the $11,000 from in the first scene) was found in a quarry with a knife in his eye.
  • Logo Joke: The film opens with a sepia-tinted version of the 1936-46 Art Deco Universal logo.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The weary Gondorff the night before the big con. Used as counterpoint to the up-and-coming Hooker, who scores a one night stand.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The film features a piece called "Solace," done both as a piano solo only and as well as an orchestral version. And yes, it's played during the rain.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: Justified in this case because both players are cheating.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Gondorff repeatedly and deliberately gets Lonnegan's surname wrong to get under his skin.
  • Meaningful Look: Each con man arriving in Chicago casually flicks his nose with his right index finger to signal that he's "in" on the plan to fleece Doyle Lonnegan.
  • Meaningful Name: Hooker is a snarer. It seems to be his real surname and not an In-Universe Nickname. Lampshaded in one of the chapter headings on the DVD: Hooker Hooked by the Feds.
  • Mentor: Hooker is redirected by Luther (paternalist) to Gondorff, more cynical.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Luther's death combines this trope with Retirony.
  • 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.
  • The Mob Boss Is Scarier: Flat-out said with the line that provides the page quote: Lonnegan is such a homicidal brute that if he catches wind that he's the victim of the con, every single conman will need to fear his retaliation for the rest of their lives (which will be very short, if Lonnegan has any say in it).
  • Mondegreen Gag: Invoked in the final bet with the horse Lucky Dan. "I said place! Place it on Lucky... That horse is gonna run second!"
  • Money to Burn: The print ad shows Henry Gondorff lighting his cigar with legal tender.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: When Lonnegan is informed by Kelly that Shaw played him like a fiddle, his first intention is to kill them both right there on the train and get rid of the bodies. Floyd tries to talk some sense into him, because they are about to reach the station and there were other players on the table who could get suspicious.
  • No Badass to His Valet: Floyd has this kind of relationship to his boss Doyle Lonnegan. He's unafraid to disagree with Lonnegan, and even mildly argue with him, even though he knows that Lonnegan is not reluctant to have people killed.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Mottola the cash runner doesn't volunteer to take down the pickpocket, but he rushes over to see if Luther is OK and hand back his envelope, which is what allows the con artists to tempt him with a huge payday and get his own cash stolen. However, he turns into an Asshole Victim when he decides to steal what he believes is a free payday.
  • No Name Given: The black-gloved gunman who Gondorff hired to guard Hooker, and who rescues him from getting killed by Loretta Salino.
  • Non-Nude Bathing: When Hooker arrives at Gondorff's home, he finds him sleeping off his drunkenness. He puts Gondorff in a shower fully clothed to sober him up.
  • Nose Tapping: A signal between the con men.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Part of the con involves Gondorff out-cheating Lonnegan.
    Lonnegan: What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The bartender in Billie's whorehouse can be seen drying a glass with a cloth.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Subverted, the con men quietly panic when Lonnegan approaches the inexperienced Joe Erie, but Erie delivers a magnificent performance.
    • When Harmon tells Lonnegan—who bet $500,000 on Lucky Dan to win—that Lucky Dan is going to run second.
  • Open Secret: Mundane example with Hooker's big hit.
    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.
  • Outside Ride: Hooker grabs on to the outside of a street-cleaning vehicle in order to escape from two of Lonnegan's thugs.
  • Le Parkour: The chase/evasion scene at the elevated train stop.
  • 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.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Small con artist Luther is killed on Lonnegan's orders in the first arc of the movie. This triggers the big con against the murderer.
  • Precision F-Strike: After Hooker puts the drunken Gondorff fully-clothed into a cold shower.
    Gondorff: Nice to meet ya, kid. You're a real horse's ass.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Henry Gondorff contacting his old crew. Kid Twist checks who else is available for the big con:
    Kid Twist: 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...
  • Rabid Cop: Lieutenant Snyder. His Establishing Character Moment is pulling a borderline-Car Fu Dynamic Entry on Hooker in order to muscle all of Hooker's share of the runner's money out of him, he intimidates and beats up his way through the Chicago underworld to find Hooker, pulls a second Dynamic Entry-slash-*Click* Hello on Hooker by smashing his pistol-packing hand through a phone booth's glass... there is also the fact that Snyder is a cop from Joliet, Illinois and probably doesn't have jurisdiction in Chicago, yet he continues to act like he has full authority.
  • Retirony: Luther is killed shortly after he tells Hooker how he'll use his share to go straight and support his family.
  • Retraux: The film opens with a sepia-tinted version of the 1936-46 Universal logo. The different "chapters" of the story are introduced with old-fashioned title cards, done in the style of Norman Rockwell's vintage Saturday Evening Post illustrations and bearing titles like "The Tale", "The Set-Up", etc. Scene transitions are done with old-fashioned wipe effects. And the film ends with a classic Iris Out.
  • Restrained Revenge: In revenge for the murder of Luther, Hooker settles for cheating Lonnegan out of a fortune rather than seeking to kill him.
  • Revenge: Hooker's driving force against Lonnegan. Also the reason for Gondorff and his band, but more toned down to avoid unprofessionalism.
  • Revenge is Sweet: After The Con the film revolves around has left Doyle Lonnegan out of a really big sum of money and with a lot of egg on his face (including thinking that he may be wanted by the police for a dual murder he did not do), Johnny Hooker is asked by Henry Gondorff how he feels. Johnny (who started the con because he wanted to get revenge on Lonnegan for killing his friend Luther but knowing he wasn't any good at trying to kill the guy) says that it feels great and laughs with Gondorff for a while.
    Hooker: You were right...It isn't enough....*begins laughing* But it's CLOSE.
  • Reverse Relationship Reveal: We see the gloved hand of a man stalking Johnny Hooker, then later that hand raising a gun and firing... at Hooker's new girlfriend (who later is shown about to kill Hooker). Then the man comes out of hiding, explains the situation, and tells Johnny he (the man) was hired by Gondorff to protect Johnny.
  • Robbing the Mob Bank: The opening 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 hitmen to find and kill each of them, and the hitmen 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.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Salino's first name is Loretta.
  • Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!: Henry Gondorff joins banker Doyle Lonnegan's crooked poker game in order to earn Lonnegan's ire. Once Gondorff is dealt a hand of four Treys, he knows a stacked deck play is in effect. At the climax of the hand, Lonnegan plays four Nines ... and Gondorff lays down four Jacks. When his adjutant wonders why Lonnegan suffered the loss, Lonnegan growls at him: "What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?"
  • Searching the Stalls: Johnny Hooker is trying to escape a hitman 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.
  • Smug Snake: Lonnegan, who is outconned at every turn.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Gondorff and Hooker when they first meet (Hooker finds Gondorff passed out next to his bed, and gives him a shower with his clothes on to sober him up):
    Gondorff: Glad to meet you, kid, you're a real horse's ass.
    Hooker: Luther said I could learn something from you. I already know how to drink!
  • Stab the Scorpion: The black-gloved gunman steps around the corner into an alley and fires a silenced gun, apparently at Hooker. He kills Loretta, then reveals that she's actually the assassin Loretta Salino, who's been assigned the hit on Hooker and was about to kill him.
  • Staged Shooting: Hooker and Gondorff, as part of their Big Con.
  • Standard Snippet: "The Entertainer," by Scott Joplin, is the film's main theme.
  • 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.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Doyle Lonnegan is none to pleased with Floyd for telling him what he already knows. That "Mr. Shaw" pulled a switch from quad threes to quad Jacks during the rigged hand, which Lonnegan then lost.
    Lonnegan: WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO!? Call him for cheatin' bettah than me in fronta the OTHAHS?!
  • Suspicious Spending: Hooker blows through his entire stake of a large con job in a single afternoon, which alerts the villain to his identity.
  • Talent Double: Gondorff's hands doing card tricks before the poker game are actually those of technical adviser and professional magician John Scarne.
  • Title Drop Chapter: Each section of the film is introduced with a title card. The last section, in which the gang performs the climactic con, is titled "The Sting".
  • 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, Gondorff 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.
    • Rather famously, promotions for this film included requests that those leaving the cinema not spoil the ending for those waiting in line for the next showing.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Gondorff deliberately dresses like a drunken slob at a big poker game with Lonnegan on a train.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The audience is aware of most of the setup, but there are several details that remain hidden until the very end.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: In the final scene Hooker, proving Gondorff right, feels this way after beating Lonnegan and remarks vengeance is not enough. He still cracks a joke: "but it's close!"
  • Verbal Tic: Ya folla?
  • 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.
  • Video Credits: The opening credits show the main cast with actor and character names.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Is mentioned offhandedly that Lonnegan is a Knight of Columbus and is primarily known as a banker.
  • Walking Spoiler: The Dreaded assassin Salino and the waitress Loretta are one and the same.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Luther calls Hooker out on his Suspicious Spending. It's most unwise for a con man to be flashing his money.


Video Example(s):


Playing For High Stakes

Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) warms up before the big poker game with a little help from magician John Scarne.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TalentDouble

Media sources: