The Sting is a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936, involving 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 had directed Newman and Redford in the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Created by screenwriter David S. Ward, the story was inspired by real-life cons perpetrated by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his 1940 book The 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. If a con is successful, the mark does not realize he has been cheated until the con men are long gone, if at all. The film is played out in distinct sections with old-fashioned title cards drawn by artist Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr, the lettering and illustrations rendered in a style reminiscent of the Saturday Evening Post. The film is noted for its anachronistic use of ragtime, particularly the melody “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, which was adapted (along with others by Joplin) for the film by Marvin Hamlisch (and a top-ten chart single for Hamlisch when released as a single from the film’s soundtrack). The film’s success created a resurgence of interest in Joplin’s work.
Released on Christmas Day of 1973, The Sting was a massive critical and commercial success and was hugely successful at the 46th Academy Awards, being nominated for ten Oscars and winning seven, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Writing (Original Screenplay); Redford was also nominated for Best Actor. The film also rekindled Newman’s career after a series of big screen flops. Regarded as having one of the best screenplays ever written, in 2005, The Sting was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.