81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Sting, The

October 4th, 2009 · No Comments · 1973, Color, Comedy, Composer: Marvin Hamlisch, Original Screenplay, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Sting, Universal Pictures

The Sting I was 13 when The Sting came out.

I wasn’t old enough to drive, and neither was my friend. But my friend’s sister drove us to the theater.

That theater, on Alpine Avenue, is no longer there. Too bad. A lot of memories were hatched there. In addition to The Sting I also saw American Graffiti and McQ at the Alpine Theater around the same time. All three of those movies made a big impression on me. I couldn’t decide if I should be a driver of fast cars (like Bob Falfa in American Graffiti), a rugged PI (like John Wayne in McQ), or a con man (like Redford or Newman in The Sting).

All I remember is that The Sting blew me away. I left the theater humming the theme song and feeling happy down to my toes.

As I watch The Sting this morning all those memories flood back.

The Sting is a very clever movie. Perfectly written. Perfectly cast. Perfectly directed. Perfectly scored.

Speaking of the cast, feast your eyes on this lot:

THE CAST
Paul Newman (1925-2008)………………..Henry Gondorff
Robert Redford (1936- )…………………….Johnny Hooker
Robert Shaw (1927-1978)………………….Doyle Lonnegan
Charles Durning (1923- )………………….Lt. Wm. Snyder
Ray Walston (1914-2001)………………….J.J. Singleton
Eileen Brennan (1932- )…………………….Billie
Harold Gould (1923- )………………………Kid Twist
John Heffernan (1934- )……………………Eddie Niles
Dana Elcar (1927- )………………………….F.B.I. Agent Polk
Jack Kehoe (1938- )…………………………Erie Kid

Robert Shaw, alone, is worth the price of the movie. He was in another Best-Picture Oscar winner, A Man For All Seasons (1966), and I loved watching him in that, too. Shaw was an intensely charismatic actor whose mere presence on the screen was always enough to captivate me.

The Sting is the story of cons within cons, machinations within machinations, twists, turns, and set-ups galore. The audience never knows which twist is expected, which is instigated, and which is a genuine surprise to the characters on the screen – all propelled by Marvin Hamlisch’s (1944- ) bouncy Scott Joplin ragtime score.

This is the first original (non-adaptation) movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture since Billy Wilder’s The Apartment in 1960 – 13 years previous! I hope y’all let that sink in a bit. Over a dozen years passed since the last original script. Everything in between was an adaptation, a script based on a previously existing work.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy The Apartment and The Sting so much. They’re truly creative ideas that, according to the behind-the-scenes features for the movies, were the result of “I wonder if…?” or “Say, there’s never been a movie about…” musings from the screenwriters.

That’s how my ideas come to me. They always start with questions, ponderings. “I wonder if…” is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. The screenwriter for The Sting, David S. Ward (1945- ) says he wrote The Sting while listening to music, old blues songs.

I always write with headphones on, listening to music. Mood music, I call it. Music appropriate for each project.

Few movies still thrill me as much as The Sting. Fewer still take me back to my early teen years the way this one does. The years 1972-1974 were important to me, especially musically. Here are the albums I bought during those years:

They Only Come Out At Night – The Edgar Winter Group
Queen – Queen
Aerosmith – Aerosmith
KISS – KISS
Desolation Boulevard – Sweet
We’re An American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
The Magician’s Birthday – Uriah Heep
Mott – Mott the Hoople
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits – Alice Cooper
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Brain Salad Surgery – Emerson Lake & Palmer

My life has pretty much been nothing but music and movies since.

I still listen to those albums. Still think they’re among the best ever recorded.

I still watch movies like The Sting, too. What an incredible movie, deserving of every accolade. It was (and is) an amazing movie – whether I’m 13 or 49. It holds up.

Much better than I have.

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