Starring Santa Monica as ‘Chicago’: Filmed on the Santa Monica Pier in 1973, “The Sting” is among the films screening at the pier this month
On Friday, Oct. 4, “The Sting” will appear at 7 p.m. on the Santa Monica Pier – and the pier will appear in “The Sting.”
Set in 1936, George Roy Hill’s classic 1973 crime caper reunited the director with superstars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, four years after the critical and commercial success of “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.” In the film inspired by real-life brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff, Newman and Redford play grifters teaming up to take down mob boss Robert Shaw.
“The Sting,” which won seven Academy Awards, including “Best Picture,” is part of the pier’s Front Porch Cinema series, programmed for the first time by Film Independent (the group behind the Los Angeles Film Festival and L.A. County Museum of Art’s cinema calendar).
“The Sting” is the second in a series of films comprising this year’s Front Porch Film Festival, which spans four Fridays into mid-October. Appropriately, a “casino theme” will accompany this screening.
“We wanted to do something that was broad-based,” Doug Jones, director of programming for Film Independent, told The Argonaut, “to reflect a number of different crowds.”
In earnest, the festival began Sept. 27 with the Los Angeles premiere of “Los Wild Ones” (2013), a documentary about Reb Kennedy and his Wild Records label, chronicling a musical trend of 1950s-style rockabilly and its attendant Latino following. (“Los Wild Ones” debuted earlier this year in the spring at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.)
“There’s been, over the years, a number of movies shot on the pier, referencing the pier,” Jones said. “You don’t often get to sit in the movie theater and watch that movie theater.”
He noted how “The Sting’s” 40th anniversary is another reason to revisit the film.
“It’s a great film but does not really circulate a lot (unlike ‘Butch Cassidy’),” Jones said. “(In ‘The Sting’), they disguised the pier as a Chicago street underneath the ‘El train.’”
“The Santa Monica Pier’s Hippodrome carousel building is one of Los Angeles County’s most iconic film history landmarks,” said local historian Harry Medved, author of “Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer’s Guide to Exploring Southern California’s Great Outdoors,” “and ‘The Sting’ helped make it even more popular as a movie location and tourist destination.
“The late great production designer Henry Bumstead told me that when he first scouted the Hippodrome for ‘The Sting,’ he thought it would make the perfect hideout for Paul Newman’s down-on-his-luck con man character. It evoked 1930s color and flash, but it had definitely fallen into a seedy state of disrepair by the early 1970s.”
Medved added that the movie reflected a time when Angelenos took “water taxis to offshore gambling casinos a few miles off the Pier,” such as Tony Cornero’s infamous S.S. Rex.
“None of that film was shot in Chicago, mostly at Universal Studios (in San Fernando Valley),” Jones said. “When they were shooting ‘The Sting,’ it was right in the middle of a ‘Save The Pier’ campaign (in1972). The fate of the pier was a little in question,” as Santa Monica city officials were trying to determine whether to scuttle the pier to make way for condo and commercial development.
But, as Jones noted, destiny took a different turn: “This thing could have been an important document in pier history. Thankfully, all that went away and the pier is still here.”
Following “The Sting” is “Snoopy, Come Home!” which will provide family-friendly fun on Oct. 11. Directed by Bill Meléndez and based on the classic comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the theatrical feature is notable as the first on-screen appearance of the titular beagle’s sidekick, Woodstock.
“It made a huge impression on me as a kid,” said Jones. “I distinctly remember watching it in Watertown, SD, in a friend’s basement. It was the first time Snoopy was not acting solely in pantomime.
“Everyone knows the ‘Peanuts’ characters,” Jones continued. “A lot of kids don’t have that deeper connection. They may not have ever seen one of these films. It’s a nostalgic trip for the parents and a new experience for the kids.”
Front Porch’s film series will wrap up Thursday, Oct. 18 with “Chasing Ice” (2012), a documentary chronicling a National Geographic photographer’s quest to capture the effects of global warming. Half adventure, part sociopolitical diatribe, “Chasing” depicts Nordic glaciers in peril presented “in a very visual, visceral way,” Jones said, adding how this “striking disconnect” will be created by the juxtaposition of the movie’s melting glaciers against the real-life backdrop of Santa Monica Pier’s Ferris wheel and carousel in the background.
Front Porch organizers recommend that attendees bring blankets and live music. For “Snoopy, Come Home!,” moviegoers can bring down their canines, who will be rewarded with doggy treats.