Updated: Jun 24
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) There’s a lot of fun watching Paul Newman as con man Henry Gondorff and Robert Redford as small-time grifter Johnny Hooker, as they try to scam New York crime lord Doyle Lonnegan. (2) Lonnegan puts $500,000 on Lucky Dan to win the third race at Riverside.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital copy; 1973; PG for profanity, sensuality and violence; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “The Art of The Sting” a 60-minute documentary
AFTER THEIR box-office smash “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), buddies Paul Newman and Robert Redford desperately wanted to reunite with director George Roy Hill.
Four years later, the trio was back.
“The Sting” was one of those Hollywood rarities, winning over critics and moviegoers alike. They flocked by the millions to see Newman and Redford back on screen. Their onscreen chemistry was – and still is – undeniable.
The Depression-era drama/comedy follows small-time grifter Johnny Hooker (Redford) and experienced con man Henry Gondorff (Newman) as they try to scam New York crime lord Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw in one of his best performances. It’s right up there with his role as shark hunter Quint in Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Lonnegan walks with a limp because Shaw sprained his ankle while playing handball just before rehearsals. Hill liked the physical touch so much, he demanded the actor continue the limp during filming.
Lonnegan’s character is so ruthless he’ll kill anyone, even for pride. He orders the death of Hooker and his mentor and surrogate father, Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones, father of James Earl Jones), after he cons one of Lonnegan’s runners for $11,000.
Hooker and Luther score $11,000 with “The Switch”
(1-10) Hooker (Redford), Luther (Robert Earl Jones), and Erie Kid (Jack Kehoe) didn’t realize they were hitting one of Lonnegan’s runners with the “switch.” Mottola (James Sloyan) was to take the 4:15 train from Joliet to Chicago with the $11,000. He tells the cabbie he’s made the easiest $5,000, but that’s not the case.
Writer David S. Ward researched the subculture of pickpockets and con artists for over a year and spent six months writing the first draft, written with Redford in mind. At the same time, East Coast husband and wife producers Michael and Julia Phillips pushed for Ward to direct, which led Redford to back away from the project. Eventually, Hill signed on as director and Redford returned, convincing Newman to play Gondorff, the second lead. Newman was so taken by Ward’s screenplay he called it, “The perfect script.” In the feature documentary, he insists the actors didn’t change more than four words during the entire shoot. Ward saw it differently, saying Newman was “very improvisational and every take would be different.” You can see Redford going like, “Paul, just say the lines.”
“Everything a confidence man does is to build confidence to make the mark [Lonnegan] feel secure…and that he’s gonna make a ton of money.” — David S. Ward, screenwriter
Hill wanted to shoot the film in Chicago, but Mayor Richard Daley, who ruled the city with an iron fist, felt it would put a negative light on the city. After all, Chicago is known as one of the top, real-life gangster capitals of the world, home to Al Capone, John “Papa Johnny,” “The Fox” Torrio, and Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, so the mayor was naturally sensitive. Hill ended up filming only three days in the Windy City, and the rest at the Santa Monica pier and Universal’s backlot.
“What I saw was the work of a master craftsman [Hill], because he took a script that was very large, very, very witty and funny and he scaled it down to something manageable and realistic so it just wasn’t a bunch of jokes… and so it could move like a rocket.” — Robert Redford, actor
(1&2) Hooker burns his share of the money $3,000 on the roulette table “Red.” (3) A composite shot of downtown Chicago and the indoor carousel. (4) Hooker finds Gondorff drunk and he puts him in the bathtub to sober him up.
The excellent ensemble cast gives the film its depth and tapestry with Eileen Brennan (Billie), Charles Durning (Lt. Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Harold Gould (Kid Twist) and Dana Elcar (FBI Agent Polk). “The Sting” received 10 Academy Award nominations, winning seven including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Costume Design, Best Music, Best Film Editing and Art Direction.
When Universal Studios was cherry-picking its best film’s in 2011 for its 100th anniversary, “The Sting’s” original camera negative was scanned at 4K. That master is the source for this presentation. It extracts a more organic film grain look, providing a slight edge of overall clarity over its HD versions (disc and digital). Improvement in wide-shots, from distant cityscapes to close-ups and characters, are evident throughout, showcasing Robert Surtees’ warm, nostalgic cinematography.
New HDR grading gives the film its biggest upgrade, offering a slightly darker tone, while the expanded color palette radiates more natural facial toning. The HD version, also sourced from the 4K master, was plagued with a reddish-cast in the mid-tones. Shadows are detailed, and the blacks are deeper. Highlights are controlled by superior toning.
Several composite shots during the first act reduce the onscreen sharpness for a moment or two, but rebound in the second half.
(1-3) Gondorff assembles the best con artists in the business to scam Lonnegan. J.J. Singleton (Ray Walston) provides all the Lonnegan dirt including that he likes to play straight poker and cheat during a poker game between New York and Chicago on the 20th Century Limited train. (4) Detective Lt. Snyder (Charles Durning) bloodies Erie Kid’s nose trying to find Hooker, who gave him $1,000 in counterfiet money.
The six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray. It gives the original mono track a shot-in-the-arm, punching up Marvin Hamlisch’s adaptation of Scott Joplin’s classic ragtime with more vivid sound.
Joplin’s music became a point of conflict between Ward and Hill since it had been written two decades before the 1930s. Hill won out, feeling only a handful of jazz buffs would know the difference. Moviegoers loved it and the main theme became a top-10 radio hit during the summer of 1973. No one can forget the vintage “Saturday Evening Post” title cards, which accompanied by ragtime, open each act.
Gangland historian and author David Maurer dubbed swindlers and con artists “the aristocrats of crime.” We’ve delighted in their escapades over the years in “Catch Me If You Can,” “American Hustle,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen,” and “Now You See Me.” Oscar-winner “The Sting” remains king of the crop. It’s terrific to watch in 4K, with all the twists and turns that keep us guessing – a treat for first-timers and an exercise in admiration for repeat viewers.
“This picture [“The Sting” is like] a great, great painting. You can go back to it ... time and time again, and you always see something new.” — Eileen Brennan, actress
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
Lonnegan gets Hooked
(1-4) Gondorff beats Lonnegan at his own game for $15,000.