Robert Shaw was something of a heartthrob swashbuckler in the late 1950s on the TV series The Buccaneers, before breaking through to movies by playing a James Bond villain in From Russia with Love (1963). He will always be best-known for two 1970s movies though – most prominently 1975’s Jaws of course, but also 1973’s Best Picture winning The Sting, in which he starred alongside Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Shaw’s character in The Sting is Irish-American crime boss Doyle Lonnegan, and Quint in Jaws has an accent inspired by a real-life fisherman from Montauk, New Jersey and other local Cape Cod/Martha’s Vineyard salty seadogs. It’s therefore surprising to learn that Shaw grew up in Northern England, Scotland and Cornwall before attending RADA and acquiring a fairly ‘posh’ received pronunciation accent.
The Sting is an ingeniously plotted heist movie set in the 1930s, with Redford, Newman and director George Roy Hill reteaming after the success of one of the best Westerns of all time; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Sting revels in the joy of the ‘long con,’ the full details of which are not revealed until right at the end.
An iconic early scene takes place on a train, in which Newman’s Henry Gondorff pretends to be a drunk loudmouth and infiltrates Lonnegan’s high-stakes poker game, cheating him out of a large sum. This is the hook that reels Lonnegan in as the mark in the long con. Robert Shaw wears fantastic suits, hats, and overcoats in The Sting. Another thing that makes the character stand out is his pronounced limp.
According to the AFI, Robert Shaw had a real limp at the time of filming due to suffering a handball injury shortly before filming. Director George Roy Hill encouraged Shaw to incorporate it into his portrayal of Lonnegan. The Sting would go onto be a box office smash – making $160 million, an incredible sum for the time. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the 20th highest-grossing movie of all time in the US. It also won seven Oscars including Best Picture.
To this day, The Sting is the only time Robert Redford has been nominated for an acting Oscar. Edith Head deservedly won for the fabulous costumes, and the score – which used Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer and other ragtime songs, also won. The Sting will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Christmas Day 2023.