Johnny Hooker, a small time grifter, unknowingly steals from Doyle Lonnegan, a big time crime boss, when he pulls a standard street con. Lonnegan demands satisfaction for the insult. After his partner, Luther, is killed, Hooker flees, and seeks the help of Henry Gondorff, one of Luther's contacts, who is a master of the long con. Hooker wants to use Gondorff's expertise to take Lonnegan for an enormous sum of money to even the score, since he admits he "doesn't know enough about killing to kill him." They devise a complicated scheme and amass a talented group of other con artists who want their share of the reparations. The stakes are high in this game, and our heroes must not only deal with Lonnegan's murderous tendencies, but also other side players who want a piece of the action. To win, Hooker and Gondorff will need all their skills...and a fair amount of confidence.Written by
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. See more »
When Lonnegan goes into the drug store, the "penny scale" to the right of the door shifts to the opposite side when Lonnegan leaves to place his wager. See more »
Small time conmen Johnny Hooker and Luther Coleman unwittingly scam a runner for Chicago main man Doyle Lonnegan. When Luther is murdered, Hooker goes on the run and seeks out Luther's old friend Henry Gondorff to help him put together a major sting to take revenge on Lonnegan. However with so much heat on Hooker and the stakes so high can they pull it off and get away clean?
Almost a follow up to Butch and Sundance, this film partners the stars of the day Newman and Redford to good effect. The story is a little less fun but still very enjoyable to watch as it builds to a great finale. The use of chapters ran the risk of fragmenting the film into bits but instead it really helps set it out and makes it more manageable. Although it is not as light hearted and jovial as the theme music suggests it still manages to flow nicely with the slightly darker drama not spoiling anything but only serving to make it feel more grown up.
The cast are all very good and make the film easy to watch. Redford comes off the best in terms of characters and his role really suits both his carefree attitude (the start of the film) but also his more serious side (the rest of the film). Newman has a lesser role that perhaps doesn't suit him quite as well, but he does have several really good scenes (the hustles) where he does very good work. Shaw's accent is a little heavy at first but I got used to it and it worked for me and he was a really good foil for Redford/Newman. The support cast including Durning, Walston, Gould, Jones and others all do good work.
The direction and use of music is really good and the sense of period is well crafted and doesn't just feel like it was painted on. I'm not sure if it deserved Best Picture or not because I don't know what the rest of the field was for that year but it is a really enjoyable film that is quite fun to watch several times even 30 years later and isn't that the main thing?
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