George Roy Hill made choices that would utilize certain stylistic techniques of the 1930s. For instance, he decided to use an old-fashioned Universal logo from the period at the beginning of the film, immediately evoking a nostalgic tone for The Sting. Hill also employed devices such as editing wipes to transition between scenes and iris shots - all stylistic choices that would help place the audience in a 1930s time frame.
Robert Shaw injured his knee and incorporated the resulting limp into his performance. According to "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" by Julia Phillips, Shaw split all the ligaments in his knee after slipping on a wet handball court at the Beverly Hills Hotel a week before filming started. He had to wear a leg brace during production which was kept hidden under the wide 1930s style trousers he wore.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford were each paid $500,000 for their role, the top-rate for an actor working at that time. Adjusted for inflation, that amount is equal to about $2.7 million.
The movie was filmed on the backlot of Universal studios and the diner in which Hooker meets Lonnegan is the same diner interior used in Back to the Future (1985) in which Marty McFly first meets his father and calls Doc Brown.
During filming Robert Redford was recovering from a broken right thumb sustained in a skiing accident a few months before, and was supposed to be wearing a cast. Numerous times in the film he uses his right hand oddly to avoid using the thumb, such as holding a fork with four fingers but not the thumb.
First Universal Studios film to win the Best Picture Oscar since All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
Edith Head won her 8th and final Best Costume Design Academy Award for this film. "Just imagine," she said during her acceptance speech. "Dressing the two handsomest men in the world and then getting this."
Technical advisor John Scarne doubled for Paul Newman's hands in the film. It was he who did all of the card manipulations and deck switching in the film. It would have taken a long time for someone to be able to master all of the card routines shown. In the film, we see Scarne's hands disappear off screen; a clever invisible cut hides the switch; Newman's hands return, and the camera pans up to his face.
Jack Nicholson turned down the role of Johnny Hooker before Robert Redford changed his mind and decided to play it.
The score of the film consists of Scott Joplin ragtime compositions, which were composed between 1900 and 1910. Although The Sting (1973) helped bring Joplin's ragtime back into American popular culture, they actually predate the period of the story by 25 years.
"The Big Con" by David W. Maurer, originally published in 1940 and reissued in 1999, served as the source for this picture.
This was the only film for which Robert Redford was ever nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor.
As he researched old Hollywood gangster films of the 1930s for inspiration, George Roy Hill noticed that most of them didn't use a lot of extras in the scenes. "For instance," said Hill as quoted in Andrew Horton's 1984 book The Films of George Roy Hill, "...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."
In a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone, Robert Shaw commented on the attention Paul Newman was getting from onlookers, "...I did notice that it was Newman everywhere we passed through. I mean, I picked up about two fans on the way, and those two ladies guided me back to the station, and with great joy they introduced me to people along the way...and none of these absolute layers of girls knew who the hell I was. But they all recognized Newman, to be sure. I mean, everybody would come up and kind of swoon over him, but they didn't in Redford's case, not at all."
Many characters are seen drinking Schlitz beer during the film. Schlitz was the largest beer company in the world during the 1930s.
Characters Henry Gondorff, JJ Singleton, Kid Twist and Eddie Niles have names similar to genuine con artists of the first quarter of the twentieth century, whose exploits are detailed in David W. Maurer's "The Big Con".
According to Paul Newman, one afternoon of friendly drinks together triggered a series of competitive practical jokes between himself and George Roy Hill. Hill invited Newman to his office for a drink one afternoon. Just before, however, Hill told Newman that he had no beer or vodka and asked him to pick some up and bring it with him. Newman agreed. Later, Newman sent Hill a bill for $8.00. Hill responded to the bill by sending Newman a three page letter about the nature of friendship and how Newman had abused it. Newman responded to that by cutting Hill's desk in half with a chainsaw and leaving a note that said: "This isn't about friendship, it's about $8.00. I may detonate the entire bungalow next time, so I wouldn't mess around." Later, Newman received a bill from Universal Studios in the amount of $800 to pay for the damage to the desk. Newman never paid.
When George Roy Hill first approached composer Marvin Hamlisch to adapt Scott Joplin's music for the score, Hamlisch was reluctant. He was a composer of original music, after all, and not in the habit of adapting other musicians' work. "I agreed to see a first cut in the screening room," said Hamlisch in his 1992 autobiography The Way I Was. "I quickly realized that this was one of the best pictures I had seen in years...David Ward had written a witty, stylish script, George Roy Hill had directed it faultlessly, and Newman and Redford were the best screen couple in years...One of the things that drew me to The Sting was that George had been shrewd enough to leave little oases without dialogue for the music. He built montages and sequences into the picture for this purpose. Whenever I see patches in a film that are talkless, I'm in heaven." Hamlisch agreed to take on the job.
George Roy Hill wanted the film to be a stylish one that accurately reflected the feel not only of 1930s Chicago but also of old Hollywood films from the era as well. Hill, along with art director Henry Bumstead and cinematographer Robert Surtees, devised a colour scheme of muted browns and maroons for the film and a lighting design that combined old-fashioned 1930s-style lighting with some modern tricks of the trade to get the visual look he wanted. Edith Head designed a wardrobe of snappy period costumes for the cast, and artist Jaroslav Gebr created inter-title cards to be used between each section of the film that were reminiscent of the golden glow of old Saturday Evening Post illustrations - a popular publication of the 1930s.
Paul Newman had been advised to avoid doing comedy films, because he didn't have the light touch needed to play comedy. Part of the reason Newman wanted to play Henry Gondorff was to prove that he could play comedy as well as drama.
David S. Ward got the idea for this movie when he was working on the script for Steelyard Blues (1973), which includes a pickpocketing scene. Researching this, Ward found himself reading about con artists. Ward had shown the other screenplay to Tony Bill, so he now gave him an outline of this story. Bill liked it immediately and brought in Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips; the three then produced both films. Ward wrote the script with Robert Redford in mind as Hooker, but Redford initially turned the part down. Even after changing his mind, he didn't expect the movie to be a hit. Robert Shaw got the part of Lonnegan only after Richard Boone and another actor had declined it. George Roy Hill saw the screenplay by accident and asked for the director's job. He routinely showed his projects to Paul Newman, and Newman was pleased to join this one. Hill wanted to film the picture on location, but Henry Bumstead was adamant that it would be much too hard to get the period appearance right; for example, things like lane markings on the streets. In the end, the only location shooting was a few days' worth in Chicago and Los Angeles; most of the exteriors were filmed on Universal's back lot.
The Sting (1973) was the fourth highest-grossing film in history at the time, behind The Exorcist (1973) (which was released the same week). The Sting (1973) took in $156 million ($723 million adjusted for inflation).
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley had refused for two years to allow any filming in the city if it was depicted negatively, but allowed the producers of this film to shoot there for three days.
When Hooker meets with Lonnegan in the hotel room, he greets the shorter bodyguard with "Hi Mutt" and the taller bodyguard with "S'ay Jeff." This is in reference to the popular newspaper comic strip of the day "Mutt and Jeff." However, in the strip, Mutt is tall and Jeff is short.
The rigged Black 22 at the roulette wheel, where Hooker loses the bet at the beginning of the movie, is the same spot that Rick Blaine uses for both Captain Renault and the Bulgarian couple to set them up to win in Casablanca (1942).
George Roy Hill wanted an unknown face to play Robert Redford's love interest, Loretta, so that audiences wouldn't project any pre-conceived ideas onto her character. The actress chosen to play her, Dimitra Arliss, heard that some Universal executives didn't think she was pretty enough to be Redford's love interest, but Hill fought for her.
Co-producer Tony Bill was an antique car buff who helped round up several period cars to use in the film. One of them was his own one-of-a-kind 1935 Pierce Arrow, which served as Lonnegan's private car.
The art work used in the credits and inter-titles were inspired by The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly publication that enjoyed its biggest popularity during the 1930s, the time period in which the story takes place.
Just prior to Elizabeth Taylor's presentation of the Best Picture Oscar for this film, the streaker Robert Opel darted across the stage as David Niven was introducing her. It was this incident (among others) that inspired singer Ray Stevens to write the song "The Streak" that went to the top of the US charts the month after the awards. Incidentally, Opel was found murdered in his San Francisco gallery in 1979.
When Kid Twist is in the bar, looking for recruits for the planned Sting, he is told the bar is full of good people, and he can have his pick, to which Kid Twist replies, "they have to be the quill." In gangster slang, this means they must be the genuine article.
When filming was completed, Robert Shaw invited George Roy Hill over to Ireland for what turned into a two-day pub crawl. "I think we must have hit every pub in in West Ireland", said Hill. "And I made the mistake of trying to keep up with him drink for drink". Back at Shaw's home, Hill collapsed exhausted into bed, only to be woken up by the sound of screaming. Downstairs in the games room, Shaw was stripped to his shorts pummelling an opponent into submission at ping-pong yelling, "One more game, you son of a bitch, one more game".
Elizabeth Taylor presented the Best Picture Oscar. Producer Julia Phillips said on stage, "You can imagine what a trip this is for a Jewish girl from Great Neck - I get to win an Academy Award and meet Elizabeth Taylor at the same time."
According to producer Julia Phillips, Robert Redford was concerned that he wasn't acting in the film but only doing a lot of running around. At the end of shooting, George Roy Hill gave Redford a sculpture of the Warner Bros. cartoon character the Road Runner made out of nails as a joke. It was inscribed: IF YOU CAN'T BE GOOD BE FAST.
Paul Newman recommended Robert Shaw for the role of Doyle Lonnegan. The day after he finished reading the script, Shaw reportedly said to Newman, "Delicious. When do I start?"
Julia Phillips, one of the film's producers, became the first woman to be nominated for and to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, when The Sting (1973) won the award that night. It became a historical milestone for acceptance of women doing greater positions in film productions, than just merely acting roles or others.
In addition to winning an Academy Award for his adaptation of the musical score, Marvin Hamlisch also won two additional Oscars the same night for his work on The Way We Were (1973).
George Roy Hill tried to find locations in Chicago and Los Angeles that had not been touched by modern civilization to use for some of the scenes. In Los Angeles, locations such as The Green Hotel, the Santa Monica Carousel and The Biltmore Hotel were all used. Chicago's Union Station was also used along with LaSalle Street Station. Producer Tony Bill also contributed to the film's authentic look by helping to round up a number of period automobiles in the Southern California area.
Writer David S. Ward taped a five-minute pitch of the project, but refused to reveal the ending until the producers read the entire script.
David Maurer sued for plagiarism, claiming the screenplay was based too heavily on his 1940 book The Big Con, about real-life tricksters Fred and Charley Gondorff. Universal quickly settled out of court for $300,000, irking David S. Ward, who had used many nonfiction books as research material and hadn't really plagiarized any of them. (It didn't help that Universal had quoted excerpts from Maurer's book-properly attributed, of course-in the souvenir booklet they produced as part of the film's publicity materials.) Another lawsuit followed when a company called Followay Productions claimed that since they'd bought exclusive adaptation rights to The Big Con back in 1952, any movie ripped off of that book was ripped off from them, too. (The case was thrown out because Followay failed to get the author to join it.) Paul Newman sued for a refund on California state income taxes that he paid on the money he earned on The Sting, saying he should have been charged the out-of-state rate, not the resident's rate. (He won.) And Newman and George Roy Hill later sued Universal for lost revenue from VHS sales on the film and Slap Shot (1977). How fitting that a movie about money should have inspired so much real-life bickering about it.
Having to shoot location scenes with Paul Newman and Robert Redford proved challenging at times. Crowds would inevitably gather and reactions would be akin to the arrival of The Beatles in 1964. "I used to go see Sinatra at the Paramount in New York when I was a kid," said one observer as the cast and crew shot a scene at Chicago's Union Station, "and, my God, I never saw anything like that. I bet the temperature in here went up 22 degrees when Newman walked in." Added another onlooker at the time, "I never saw anything like it, either. Myself, I think we ought to rope off that centre aisle and never let anybody use it again." Newman and Redford made a point of not taking such attention seriously and concentrated on the work in hand.
The part where Snyder rejects Billie's drink by pouring it over her hand was actually an accident. Charles Durning was supposed to pour the drink on the floor but Eileen Brennan's hand got in the way. They kept in character and she improvised the annoyed look and shaking off her hand at him.
A huge hit at the Irish box-office, this played for over one year at Dublin's Adelphi cinema. It was in fact so popular that UK cinemagoers were flying to Dublin to catch it as it had finished showing on the British circuits.
The film heavily utilised composer Scott Joplin's turn-of-the-century Ragtime music throughout even though the action takes place in the 1930s - many years after the Ragtime trend had been popular. George Roy Hill felt that despite the musical anachronism, the lightness of Joplin's music perfectly captured the playful tone of the story.
Sterling Hayden turned down the role of Doyle Lonnegan because he didn't want to shave his beard off.
As soon as George Roy Hill signed on to direct, he knew that he wanted to lighten the tone. Originally, David S. Ward had written the story as a much darker tale of con men on the take. Hill, however, envisioned it as a playful homage to old Hollywood gangster films of the 1930s.
Although the prospect of re-teaming Paul Newman and Robert Redford seemed viable, the studio had a concern: In the movie, the two con men's partnership hinges on the possibility that one (or both) will try to double-cross the other. With Redford and Newman so famously chummy, Universal was concerned that audiences wouldn't believe such a betrayal was possible, and the film would thus lose some of its suspense. Hill assuaged their fears.
Much of the plot appears in the Orson Welles radio program episode of "The Lives of Harry Lime" entitled "Horse Play." It was on radio in 1951.
Robert Redford's character (Johnny Hooker) is supposedly named after blues legend John Lee Hooker.
When George Roy Hill was first trying to interest Paul Newman in playing the part of experienced con man Henry Gondorff, Newman thought that he wasn't right for it. While Newman loved the script, he thought that the person playing Gondorff should be much older.
According to costume designer Edith Head's biography, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, both of whom have blue eyes, wanted their shirts to be blue in order to emphasize their eyes. As a compromise, Head outfitted each man in blue in alternating scenes. Unfortunately, although it is an attractive story, it is unsure if it's a myth or not. During the scene with carousel, Newman is seen wearing a blue pair of overalls. This is the only scene in the film where he wears blue. On the train he alternates between a brown striped shirt and a white one, which may or may not be a continuity error. From then until the end of the film, he is seen exclusively in a dinner jacket and white shirt. Redford wears a blue shirt on a couple of occasions, but this doesn't necessarily prove its validity.
Rob Cohen (later director of action films such as The Fast and the Furious (2001)) years later told of how he found the script in the slush pile when working as a reader for Mike Medavoy, a future studio head, but then an agent. He wrote in his coverage that it was "the great American screenplay and ... will make an award-winning, major-cast, major-director film." Medavoy said that he would try to sell it on that recommendation, promising to fire Cohen if he could not. Universal bought it that afternoon, and Cohen keeps the coverage framed on the wall of his office.
Director George Roy Hill re-shot the first week's worth of footage. According to screenwriter David S. Ward, production got off to a rather shaky start and he said the only time he felt any doubt about the film's potential was when shooting began. He said that Hill "didn't like what he did the first week of shooting, and thought it could be better, so he re-shot it."
In her 1991 memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Julia Phillips said that the one thing she learned while making the film was to make sure she always negotiated the width as well as the height of the letters of her name in movie credits. When it came out, she said, "everyone's name is in thick black letters but ours, which are willow thin."
The 'wife' in the family photograph that Kid Twist put on the desk in the Western Union office was the great character actress, 'Kathleen Freeman'.
The Chicago Elevated stop used in the sequence where Snyder chases Hooker is the 43rd Street station. There is still a stop there, on the current Green Line, but the building shown in the film was destroyed by a fire in 1974 and replaced in 1976. Though shown painted white in the movie, the old station probably would still have been the original natural brick color in the 1930s. The A/B signs on the platform are also an anachronism: skip stop service was not introduced until after WWII.
Originally screenwriter David S. Ward was supposed to direct. It would have been his first film as a director. However, Robert Redford insisted on someone more experienced behind the camera before he would sign on to play Johnny Hooker.
When the film first aired on television following its theatrical release, it scored a record share (61) of the viewing audience which was a huge number.
Similarly to what Bonnie and Clyde (1967) had done for women, the film's 1930's-inspired fashions ignited a trend in men's clothes across the country with gangster suits briefly becoming all the rage.
David S. Ward defines "The Sting" as the moment a con man separates a mark from his money.
Producers David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck enjoyed working with Robert Shaw and recommended him to Steven Spielberg for "Jaws" which they also produced.
Paul Newman's character takes on the name of "Shaw" while playing poker on the train. The "mark" at the game, Doyle Lonnegan, is played by Robert Shaw. He ends up calling Newman "Mr. Shaw" several times during the game.
In the final chapter board drawing 'The Sting', the horse shown on the lead is wearing blinkers with blue and white blocks. Those were the colors Secretariat wore while winning the Triple Crown in 1973, the same year as The Sting.
Richard Boone was the first choice for the role of Lonnegan. Oliver Reed was offered the role but refused to test for it (he would later play Lonnegan in the sequel). Stephen Boyd was also considered.
Paul Newman repeats the wake-up/hangover cure of filling the sink with ice water and sticking his face in it he first used in Harper '66.
Is one of only two movies (the other being Crash (2004)) to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without having been nominated for any of the three Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture (Best Drama, Best Comedy/Musical and Best Foreign Film).
Paul Newman's role, Henry Gondorff, was written for an overweight, past one's prime slob, and was a minor character. He was only in about half of David S. Ward's original screenplay, and was intended to be an older, paunchier fellow-a sort of gruff mentor to Johnny Hooker. The producers originally envisioned Peter Boyle to play the role, but Paul Newman loved the screenplay and was eager to play Gondorff. Ultimately, Ward slimmed down the character and beefed up the role to fit Newman.
The gin that Paul Newman uses in the train scenes is Gordon's Gin, the same gin that Humphrey Bogart drinks on The African Queen (1951).
The meaning and relevance of a "Sting" is that it can be defined as a confidence trick, a scam, confidence game or a con. The use of the word sting to mean this is a metaphor based on the hurt or pain of a bee sting doubling for that of being a victim of a swindle.
According to Ray Walston, Paul Newman decided to play a joke on Robert Redford while shooting the film. Both actors drove Porsches and lavished attention on them obsessively. One day while Redford was gone, Newman took the keys to his co-star's Porsche and hid the car making Redford think that someone had stolen it.
Almost all the racehorses mentioned in Gondorf's betting con, if not all, are actual thoroughbreds that ran betted races in the 1930s. A jockey named J. Stout did indeed ride "Flying Cross" at least once, there is no report of "Lucky Dan" ever running a race at Riverside, and "Wilder" may be a friendly jab at director Hill's contemporary Billy Wilder, who hated horse racing. "Wrecking Crew" might be a nod to a 1968 film in which Byron Morrow ("Mr. Jameson" in the poker game) also appeared, and uncredited in that one too.
George Roy Hill wanted the film to be reminiscent of old Hollywood movies from the 1930s and watched a lot of films from that era for inspiration. He also used old issues of The Saturday Evening Post to influence the film's visual style.
Robert Redford's Best Actor Oscar nominated performance was the only one in the category in a Best Picture nominee that year.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
The filming was split between some location shooting in Chicago, where the story was set, and on the Universal back lot in California.
Cast members Jack Collins (Duke Boudreau), Arch Johnson (Combs), Larry D. Mann (Train Conductor) and Byron Morrow (Mr. Jameson) all played multiple roles on the ABC sitcom "Bewitched" 1964-1972, mostly as Darrin Stephens' clients at the ad agency McMahon & Tate. Collins alone appeared in 7 different roles.
In this film, Paul Newman is sporting a moustache while Robert Redford is clean shaven. Years before the two actors also starred in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) wherein it is Redford who sports a moustache while Newman is clean shaven.
Apart from Sterling Hayden and Richard Boone, the producers mainly considered English or Irish actors for the Doyle Lonergan part. Welshman Hugh Griffith was also considered.
Shirley MacLaine and Walter Matthau presented the Academy Award for Best Director to George Roy Hill.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
David S. Ward listened to a lot of blues music from the 1930s and 40s while writing the script.
Leonard Barr, who played a comedian in this movie also played one in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Robert Shaw played Grant in another James Bond movie, From Russia with Love (1963), both films with Sean Connery in the role of Bond.
Neil Simon and Marsha Mason presented the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay to David S. Ward.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Original Song Score / Adaptation Score, and Best Costume Design.
In addition to this film being a reunion for Paul Newman and Robert Redford from their joint appearance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Charles Dierkop also appeared in both films. Here he played Floyd the Bodyguard, in Butch Cassidy he played Flat-Nose Curry.
According to Guinness, this movie was the top money maker of 1974 in the US and Canada.