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The Entertainer
by Asa Butcher
2008-09-28 09:45:10
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The Sting
Directed by George Roy Hill
1973, Universal Pictures

Across the world hundreds of newspapers, websites and TV news channels are reporting the death of Paul Newman at the age of 83 describing his passing as a great loss to Hollywood, but I want to offer a different stance - calm down, it isn't that different. A great loss to Hollywood were the untimely deaths of actors such as James Dean and Heath Ledger, who still had so much too offer, so the great loss to Hollywood could have been if Paul Newman had never become an actor and never made so many of those great films that now sit on my DVD shelf.

How can anybody not have one of Newman's films among their Top Ten Movies? I have two on that list and you could almost say they are carbon copies of one another: they are Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and The Sting, both directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Sadly only one of these films won the Best Picture Academy Award following their nomination and that is the one I shall review in memory of this great man's death.

From the opening piano chords of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" to the superb twist ending that ties together each of The Sting's intricate story threads, you can't help but be mesmerised by this awesome 1973 film that edged out Oscar competition from George Lucas' American Graffiti, Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers, William Friedkin's The Exorcist and Melvin Frank's A Touch of Class.

The Sting received ten nominations from which it won seven, including Best Director, Best Film Editing and the eighth Best Costume Design for Edith Head, who has won more Academy Awards than any other woman in history. Head's costumes are just one minor facet that adds further magic to this 1930s grifting caper that has inspired dozens of films, such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Snatch.

The film's plotline is simple - if you pay close attention. It involves a young con man Johnny Hooker (Redford) seeking revenge for his friend's death by joining forces with legendary grifter Henry Gondorff (Newman) to 'sting' mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). For those unfamiliar with grifting terms, 'sting' is the moment when a con artist finishes the "play" and takes the mark's money, who shouldn't realise he has been "taken" (cheated). See, it is simple!

I could wax lyrical about the performances by Newman, Redford and Shaw, I could overstate their collective acting brilliance, I could describe the film as a thespian masterclass, I could complain that only Redford received an Acting nomination, but I won't do any of that. I will remain controlled and objective, and perhaps when I review Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid then I will really let loose with the superlatives.

One particular element of George Roy Hill's film that I have always enjoyed is all of the minor period attentions to details, such as the opening Universal Pictures' logo is in 1930s style and the use of old-fashioned title cards that build to the conclusion - we begin with "Part I: The Set-Up", move on to "Part II: The Hook", thunder on to "Part III: The Tale" and finally conclude with "Part IV: The Sting". However, the Scott Joplin ragtime tune that has become intrinsically connected with the movie was actually first published in 1902 and ragtime music was no longer popular during the Thirties - it was during the Seventies though, with the film's version reaching #3 on the U.S. Billboard pop chart.

The real entertainer though is and forever will be Paul Newman. His role as Henry Gondorff in The Sting may not be as iconic as his portrayal of Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy or Fast Eddie Felson, but it is no less entertaining. His death is terribly sad, but we are all lucky to have been able to share in his talent and to be able to enjoy it for many more decades to come. His passing is not a loss to Hollywood because he gave us his entire life and for that we should all be grateful.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-09-28 11:33:00
Paul Newman was not only a great actor but, more importantly, a great human being, a wonderful many sided whole man (Tom Wolfe would say “a man in full”) who gave almost a quarter of a billion dollars to charity and has touched many lives with his kindness. Of a few men it can be said that his great talent and competency was matched by his sheer humanity, also reflected in his movies. Those men are rarer and rarer in our sad times. In a recent interview with Larry King he said once that while forty years ago he came across half a dozen excellent manuscripts a year, nowadays that number has shrunk to one a year. He left the world a better place than he found. We shall not see his likes again. We shall greatly miss him.

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