I watched The Sting the other night, not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time.
It’s a 50-year-old movie set in 1936, but given the power of the myths and stories that it’s built on, it doesn’t feel particularly dated, unlike a number of other movies that I enjoyed in the 1970s but find unwatchable now.
I always did like Paul Newman/Robert Redford movies, though I tried to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid awhile back and found I couldn’t get into it. I’m not sure why The Sting still works for me and Butch Cassidy doesn’t, since they’re similar stories based on Anglo American mythology. Might just be that I can handle gangster stories better than westerns.
There are some reasonable criticisms of it. Robert Earl Jones (James Earl Jones’s father) plays a magical Negro role — the mentor to Redford’s young white grifter. He is, of course, murdered early on, setting up the reason for the revenge sting.
He and his family and one other guy are the only Black people in the movie, but they are portrayed well and treated with respect by the good guy white people (all grifters). It could have been worse.
Still, this is very much a movie about white men. There are a couple of women in key supporting roles, but this movie does not pass the Bechdel Test. That said, and in spite of the fact that one of those women is a madam as well as Newman’s lover, it doesn’t feel directly misogynist. Women are just mostly irrelevant in this world, even women who themselves are grifters.
I enjoyed myself, but since I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat — it’s a movie with a lot of twists and surprises, but I knew what they all were — I found myself thinking a lot about the underlying mythology and the various stories we’ve all been fed that purport to tell us our history.
To start with, this is a story about grifters with a heart of gold. After suffering through a grifter in the White House for four years, I’m not as inclined to believe good things about grifters as I used to be. Continue reading “Watching Old Movies and Asking Questions”…