THE DVD SHELF: "The Sting," "The Artist" and Chaplin's "The Gold Rush"

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01 Jul 2012

Cover art for
Cover art for "The Sting"

Watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "The Sting," Jean Dujardin in Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist," and Charles Chaplin's "The Gold Rush," gloriously transferred to Blu-ray.


Not having seen George Roy Hill's The Sting [Universal] since its release almost 40 years ago, I am pleased to find it as enjoyable today as upon first viewing. What's more, I am impressed by how well put together it is. The action slides along as if on well-greased wheels, gliding from scene to scene and delight to delight. The enjoyment starts not with the three star performances — each of which is delicious to watch — but with the carefully and delectably contrived scenario from Mr. Hill and scenarist David S. Ward. (Hill and Ward received Oscars for "The Sting," which also won Best Picture and an additional four.) It's a ballet of conmen conning, and the creators never make one false move. Or you could say that the whole film consists of false moves, which are carefully and cannily concealed by Hill and company.

All of this might not have worked precisely so well without the glistening performances by the cast. The project was a reunion of Hill with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, his stars from the 1969 "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Newman and Redford were at the height of their fame in "The Sting" (and "Butch Cassidy" as well). Some under-40 viewers might consider the pair to be old-timers, from another era; one look at "The Sting" will show you why they were, both of them, outsized celebrities for more than a quarter century.

They are joined above the title by Robert Shaw, not a name of the same prominence but an actor clearly in their league. Shaw was by then a somewhat familiar presence on the big screen, his most prominent credit being Henry VIII in 1966 in "A Man for All Seasons" (which won him a featured Oscar nomination). He attracted attention as a Broadway playwright with The Man in the Glass Booth in 1968, and in 1970 made his one and only stab at a leading role in a Broadway musical — for one performance, plus previews — in Gantry. And he was pretty good, let me add, although the show wasn't. "The Sting" established Shaw as a major movie villain in 1973, which he followed with notably chilling performances as the insane hijacker in the 1974 "Taking of Pelham One Two Three" and as the driven shark hunter in the 1975 "Jaws."

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "The Sting."

Every place you look, though, is a good performance. Eileen Brennan (as Newman's moll), Harold Gould (as a slick conman) and Ray Walston (as a racetrack type) lead the way, but you've also got Charles Durning (as a Chicago cop), Dana Elcar (as a Fed), John Heffernan (as a banker-conman) and Robert Earl Jones — looking not unlike his son, the actor — as Redford's early partner. There are also arresting performances from two little-known actors, Dimitra Arliss (as a greasy-spoon waitress) and Jack Kehoe (as a small-time crook).

Among the Oscar wins were statuettes for Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing and Original Song Score and/or Adaptation. This last marked the astounding emergence of the all-but-unknown Marvin Hamlisch, who on that awards night in 1974 swept down the aisle and up to the podium three times. (His other two statuettes were for Original Dramatic Score and Original Song, both for his work on "The Way We Were.") Hamlisch developed his "Sting" score from the work of Scott Joplin, which had just recently emerged from faded memory courtesy of pianist Joshua Rivkin's 1970 million-selling LP, "Scott Joplin: Piano Rags." Using Joplin tunes from 1902 in a film set in 1936 is like musicalizing a Vietnam story with tunes from Gershwin, but hey — it worked! And exceptionally well.

"The Sting" looks wonderful on Blu-ray; all those design awards were truly merited. Bonus features include "The Art of The Sting," a three-part documentary featuring "A Perfect Script," "Making a Masterpiece" and "The Legacy." The Blu-ray hardcover book edition includes — along with the informative and colorful text — DVD and digital copies of the film.

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