I've never seen this movie for the first time
. Really. This was always one of my dad
's favorites, and I watched it again and again, on network television
and then on videotape, since before I can remember. Someone who's actually seeing this for the first time as an adult
will have to tell me what they thought.
What I think: it's a great guy movie. There's very little action, except for a few foot chases, and nothing blows up in it at all. But Robert Redford and Paul Newman are a man's men from the beginning to the end, and while they may not be the most admirable characters (they're con men, for Pete's sake), they're the sort every guy wishes they could be: smart, sneaky, and with lots of friends to help them pull the con off.
The year is 1938, and a grifter named Hooker (Redford's character) together with his two best friends has just pulled off the take of his lifetime: eleven thousand dollars, tax free of course. He's only got two problems: the victim was a courier for a big time mobster named Lonnegan, and a crooked cop named Snyder wants two-thirds of the take and is willing to chase him across Illinois to get it.
Hooker follows the advice of one of his friends, Luther, to check out a man named Gondorff in Chicago and get in on the big con, but not before Luther is killed by Lonnagan and another hit is put out on Hooker. With a faceless assassin after him from one direction and Snyder after him on the other, Hooker has his hands full trying to keep his cover long enough to pull a half-a-million-dollar con on Lonnegan himself.
Like I said, not a lot of action or explosions there. But the movie isn't about gunfights, or even really about revenge. It's about trust -- who you can, and who you can't. A con artist has to be able to honestly trust those he's working with and at the same time deceptively earn the trust of the one being conned. But what happens when you can't even trust the police or your landlady? Or when a hired killer could be following you any day? Worst of all, what happens when you're asked to betray the person who trusts you the most?
When it's all over with, this is a movie about knowing who your friends are, and why. They're the ones that will help you laugh about it all when all is said and done.
Paul Newman .... Henry Gondorff
Robert Redford .... Johnny Hooker
Robert Shaw .... Doyle Lonnegan
Charles Durning .... Lt. Wm. Snyder
Ray Walston .... J.J. Singleton
Eileen Brennan .... Billie
Harold Gould .... Kid Twist
John Heffernan .... Eddie Niles
Dana Elcar .... F.B.I. Agent Polk