The Sting (1973) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con.

  • 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.

  • Following the murder of a mutual friend, aspiring con man Johnny Hooker teams up with old pro Henry Gondorff to take revenge on the ruthless crime boss responsible, Doyle Lonnegan. Hooker and Gondorff set about implementing an elaborate scheme, one so crafty that Lonnegan won't even know he's been swindled. As their big con unfolds, however, things don't go according to plan, requiring some last-minute improvisation by the undaunted duo.

  • When the gang are coming up with a way to get Lonnegan, Kid Twist mentions that Riley and Cole are the only torpedoes they know of. Then how did they know that Loretta Salino was also a torpedo after she was shot by the guy sent by Gondorff?

  • Johnny Hooker is a young con-man who is being taught by Luther. One day they pull one of their con jobs and net themselves a huge roll. What they don't know is that the man they conned is the courier for a numbers runner. And it turns out that the boss, Doyle Lonigan, considers it an attack on him and orders all the people involved terminated. Hooker is shaken down by a crooked cop, Snyder, who threatens to turn him over to Lonigan unless he pays him off. Hooker pays him, he then tries to warn Luther but is too late. He then goes to see Henry Gondorf, a friend of Luther's and a one time great con-man, who has had a bit of bad luck. After hearing what happened to Luther and seeing how hungry Hooker is for payback, he assembles a gang and decides to con Lonigan. While everything seems to be going ok, there is just the problem of the hit on Hooker and Snyder, whom Hooker paid off with counterfeit money.

  • It's September, 1936. The place: Joliet, Illinois. Luther Coleman, his apprentice Johnny Hooker, and their underling Joe Erie's latest swindle has netted them $11,000, enough for an aged Luther to contemplate retiring from grifting. They are unaware however that that money belonged to ruthless racketeer Doyle Lonnegan, whose thugs kill Luther in retaliation. Before Luther's death, he suggested to Hooker that he contact Henry Gondorff, his old friend in Chicago to learn the art of the big con. Hooker does contact Gondorff, who has retired after being burned in his last big con. Gondorff decides to come out of retirement solely to help Hooker get back at Lonnegan for Luther's murder. In pulling off the big con, Gondorff and Hooker require the assistance of a number of Gondorff's old associates as well as a number of small time grifters. In the latter group includes Erie, who wants to do his small part in revenging Luther's death. Beyond Lonnegan or anyone else finding out about the con, there are many potential obstacles in pulling off the sting, such as a controlling and overly cautious Lonnegan wanting to do things his own way, and a number of people chasing after Hooker, including a crooked Joliet vice cop named Snyder, Lonnegan's lower level thugs and a hired hit man. Through the process, Hooker, who sees himself as being a wheeler dealer, may come across a better deal than that provided to him by Gondorff.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • It is 1936 and a money runner is carrying the week's take -- $11,000 -- from an illegal gambling outfit in Joliet, Illinois, to the main office. On the way, three men con him by replacing his money with tissue paper. Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), the mobster who was supposed to get the money, exacts revenge by having one of the con men, Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones), killed when his men push him out a window. Lonnegan also orders a hit on Luther's partner, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford). Hooker goes to Chicago to escape Lonnegan's wrath. In Chicago he meets Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), an old friend of Luther's. Out for revenge for Luther's death, they set up an elaborate plan -- a "long con" -- to swindle an enormous sum out of Lonnegan so neatly that he won't even realize he's been conned.

    Posing as an obnoxious gambling boss from Chicago, Gondorff gets into a high-stakes poker game with Lonnegan, who is known to cheat. Lonnegan, flustered by the first round of play, orders one of his men to replace the deck with one stacked with threes and sixes, his preferred hand. Despite the stacked deck, Gondorff cheats better and wins $15,000 from Lonnegan. Lonnegan can't pay it right away because his wallet is missing. (One of Gondorff's associates picked his pocket before the game.) Gondorff sends Hooker to Lonnegan's cabin to pick up the money. Hooker, playing Gondorff's resentful second-in-command, tells Lonnegan he has a great plan to con Gondorff, but he needs "someone respectable" to place the bets. Lonnegan, furious at being out-cheated, bites.

    Gondorff and company do a lot of fast work to get ready for the final phase of the long con. First they assemble a mob and rent an empty basement, transforming it in a couple of days into a prosperous gambling parlor. An announcer (Ray Walston) in a back room describes horse races as if they were happening live -- but he's reading from a ticker tape, so the results are known in advance. They choose a race with odds they like -- maybe 3:1 or 4:1 -- and call in a tip (a particular horse or horses to win, place, or show) to the pay phone at the corner drugstore, where Lonnegan is waiting. Gondorff's gang has also rented a room with a view of the corner drugstore; when Lonnegan comes out on his way to the gambling den, a watcher rings a buzzer to warn them he's coming. They run through this once with a fairly small bet to show Lonnegan the system will work; the final plan they give Lonnegan calls for a bet so large it will ruin Gondorff. They run into trouble when Lonnegan demands to meet Hooker's imaginary accomplice. Hooker has told Lonnegan the key to the scam is his friend at Western Union who gives him race results by phone before they're released over the wire. The skeptical Lonnegan, however, wants proof. Pretending to be painters, the gang tricks a genuine Western Union manager into vacating his office for an hour, and one of them poses as the manager. Lonnegan is convinced.

    Meanwhile, Lonnegan's goons have tracked Hooker to Chicago but failed to kill him. (They -- and Lonnegan -- have no idea that the man Lonnegan is "helping" to con Gondorff is the same guy who helped Luther take the runner's money at the beginning of the movie.) Lonnegan assigns the job to someone called Solino, who, it's implied, is a very skilled assassin.

    Lt. Snyder (Charles Durning), a Joliet cop, has pursued Hooker to the big city because Hooker gave Snyder counterfeit cash when Snyder tried to shake him down. Snyder isn't getting very far; when Hooker can't stay out of Snyder's way entirely, he can outrun him. Snyder is induced to assist FBI Agent Polk (Dana Elcar), who's after Gondorff. Snyder collars Hooker and brings him to Polk, who pressures him to give up Gondorff by threatening to lock up Luther's wife. Hooker, who was close to Luther's family, gives in, provided the FBI will let the Lonnegan con run its course before arresting Gondorff.

    The night before the final act of the con, Hooker hooks up with Loretta (Dimitra Arliss), the new waitress at the diner where he likes to eat. When he wakes up, she's gone. He's somewhat puzzled to find that she hasn't robbed him. He dresses, fits something we don't get a good look at over his back teeth, and goes out. A man whom we've seen only glimpses of before now is stalking Hooker with a gun. As Hooker walks down a sunlit alley and spots Loretta coming toward him, smiling, the armed man emerges behind him and shoots -- hitting Loretta neatly in the middle of the forehead. She drops a handgun as she falls. Hooker, stunned, listens to the gunman's explanation that Loretta Solino is "a pro" -- a hired killer -- and she hadn't killed him the night before because witnesses had seen him entering her apartment. To Hooker's bewildered "Who are you?", the gunman replies "Gondorff asked me to look after you."

    Lonnegan, with half a million dollars in a suitcase, receives his tip in the drugstore and goes to Gondorff's gambling parlor to place the bet. The betting clerk needs Gondorff's approval to accept such a large bet; there's some taunting and snarling between Gondorff and Lonnegan before Gondorff accepts it. Lonnegan sits down to listen to the race. He's joined by Kid Twist (Harold Gould), the faux Western Union manager who's been calling in Lonnegan's tips. When Lonnegan mentions that he bet on the tipped horse to win, Kid Twist, shocked, tells him the bet should have been to place, not to win. In a panic, Lonnegan tries to rescind the wager, but it's too late.

    While Lonnegan is shouting, the FBI bursts in to arrest Gondorff. Having secured the mastermind, his prize, Polk tells Hooker he can go. Hooker throws a guilty look at Gondorff and starts to slink away, but Gondorff pulls a gun and shoots him in the back. Polk shoots Gondorff. Lonnegan, standing nearby, can see that Hooker is bleeding from the mouth; both men look quite dead. Lt. Snyder, whose job is to get Lonnegan away as quickly as possible, duly hustles him out, telling him he doesn't want to be mixed up with dead bodies. Lonnegan is distraught, saying he left a half million dollars inside.

    Back in the gambling den, good cheer reigns. The dead have risen and are congratulating one another and their many accomplices -- including the erstwhile FBI agents -- for a job well done. The set is already being disassembled; Gondorff tells the mobsters where to pick up their share of the take and he and Hooker leave together.

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