This is my post for the Unsung Hero Blogathon hosted by KG's Movie Rants.
You know, the most shocking thing about Robert Redford's acting career is NOT that he lost the Best Actor Oscar to Jack Lemmon (for his portrayal of Harry Stoner in "Save the Tiger") in 1973. The shocking thing is, believe it or not, the nomination he got for playing Johnny Hooker in "The Sting" represents the ONLY time he was nominated for Best Actor.
Really, you say? That's right! Wait! What about The Sundance Kid in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? Nope. Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men"? Nah. Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby"? Not a whiff. Denys Finch Hatton in "Out of Africa"? Negative. Well, surely for his portrayal of Roy Hobbs in "The Natural"? Not even. And when you consider that each of those movies mentioned were nominated for and/or actually won Oscars in various other categories, it becomes nothing short of astounding.
The fact of the matter is that Redford has only won one Oscar (so far), and that one for being on the other side of the camera. He won Best Director in 1980 for "Ordinary People". But as an actor, he has barely been noticed by the Academy. If there was a category for most Oscar-worthy roles ignored by the Oscar committee, a case could be made for Robert Redford being close to the top of that list. (I'm sure I'll get arguments from others on that, but I feel sure he'd be up in the top ten of that fictional list, at the very least.)
And why he should be ignored is curious. It's not as if he has political views that conflict with the Hollywood elite. John Wayne probably got snubbed more times because he was a political conservative than for his less than Oscar-worthy performances, but Redford is a staunch liberal, so it can't be because of his politics. (The Academy is politically motivated, I don't care what argument you make to discredit that view...)
Redford got his start on television, beginning in 1960, including one role on one of my favorite TV shows, The Twilight Zone. He made the transition to film fairly quickly and won a Golden Globe for Best New Star-Actor for his role as Wade Lewis in "Inside Daisy Clover'. By 1968, with "Barefoot in the Park", he was a name star. Over the years he has had a great career. But the Best Actor Oscar spot on his mantle still remains vacant.
His role as Johnny Hooker really deserved the award. I've seen "Save the Tiger", and not to discredit Lemmon's performance, I thought Redford was better. I've also seen the other three performances. Jack Nicholson was great in "The Last Detail" and Al Pacino was pretty good as "Serpico". I admit I was not really impressed with "Last Tango in Paris", even with Marlon Brando in it. It's too bad the voting is secret and we can't find out how the final tally went except for the actual winner. Personally, I would bet that Redford was a close second...
The Sting (1973)
Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), and his partners in crime, Joe Erie (Jack Kehoe) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones who, BTW, was the father of James Earl Jones), exist on the streets of Joliet, Illinois, by way of a grifting scheme that was one of the confidence games hustlers used during the Depression. The three make the mistake of conning a numbers runner who has some $10,000 on him, rather than the two-bit plays with which they usually come away.
The numbers runner, it turns out, works for Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), an Irish gangster with a temper and a heart for revenge. He finds out who the small-time grifters are and arranges for their early exit from this life. He succeeds in killing Luther, but Johnny gets away.
Hooker makes his way to Chicago, from the advice of Luther, who had been planning to retire on his cut of the take. There Hooker meets up with Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), a friend of Luther's and a legendary con man who has since fallen on harder times.
Hooker is hounded to Chicago by a bunco lieutenant from Joliet, Snyder (Charles Durning). Snyder represents the fly in the ointment throughout the movie, because Snyder was a crooked cop, demanding a cut of the take from the con job and Hooker paid him off in counterfeit money. Snyder seeks Hooker out to exact revenge for his bilking of Snyder on his due cut of the heist.
At the same time, Hooker is being sought by Lonnegan's hit men who want to send him to the same early grave they sent Luther. But the two gangsters bungle it, so we find out that Lonnegan put his best soldier, Salino, on the job. Meanwhile Gondorff and Hooker set up an elaborate con game to try to take money from Lonnegan as revenge for the death of Luther, because as Hooker says "I don't know enough about killing to kill him."
This movie way too complex and it would be a sin to spoil it anymore than I already have. The con game is fairly genuine. David S. Ward, the scriptwriter, did his homework. He stayed away from making it truly authentic in terms of language (slang) of the time, using only the bare minimum to get the feel of it because, as he says in the special features, if he had gone whole hog on it, it would have been incomprehensible to the general public.
Redford is the key, though. In the hands of someone else, the character of Hooker might have come across as obnoxious and unsympathetic, which would have seriously undermined the goal to draw the audience to root for him. Hooker is likable, even when he seems to be doing something the audience thinks he shouldn't do (and that's as close to a spoiler as I'm going to do.) Suffice to say, this is definitely Oscar-worthy material. "Nuts!" to the committee for not seeing it as being the best of the year.