"Dukey, if this thing blows up, the Feds will be the least of our problems."
Set in 1930s Chicago, the film opens up with novice con Johnny Hooker and his mentor, Luther, as they pull off their latest sting. Unfortunately, they've bitten off more than they can chew this time; their latest victim has connections to Big Bad racketeer Doyle Lonnegan. When Lonnegan's goons rub out Luther and put a hit on Hooker's head, Hooker seeks out his mentor's friend, Henry Gondorff, a master of the "big con". Assembling their team, Hooker and Gondorff prepare to scam the big one out of Lonnegan.
And just to complicate things, they've got to make sure he never even finds out he's been conned, otherwise he'll put hits on all of them.
- Avengers Assemble: Walter Gondorff contacting his old crew.
- Berserk Button: Doyle Lonnegan gets angry if you mispronounce his name.
- Blood From the Mouth: Hooker fakes this at the end as part of the big con.
- Briefcase Full of Money: Lonnegan takes one of these to bet at the con.
- Burlesque: Hooker's girlfriend stars in a Burlesque show.
- Catch Phrase: Doyle Lonnegan's "Ya folla?" (You follow?), used habitually enough to be something of a Verbal Tic.
- Chekhov's Gun: A very quick one. When it's time to get ready to pull the "big con", we see Hooker putting something in his mouth while standing in front of his mirror. It's the blood bag that he uses to fake Blood From the Mouth at the climax.
- Complexity Addiction: Salino is a sufferer.
- The Con: One so good it cons the big one out of its audience!
- The Con Within a Con: The initial plan is for Hooker to try and entice Lonnegan into wanting to pull a con on Gondorff posing as a bookie named Shaw.
- Confiscated Phone: Hooker grabs a pay phone away from a woman in order to try to call Luther before he is murdered, then runs off to try and reach him. Hooker's friend is left behind, being swatted by the woman and her purse because she lost her nickel and wants it back.
- Con Man: Many of the main characters.
- Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists
- Delayed Wire: The off-track betting tale.
- Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: The whole point of the film.
- Dirty Cop: Lt. Snyder.
- Get Thee to a Nunnery: The title. In old parlance, it was the final part of a con -- the bit where the con men took the mark's money -- and could be used metonymically for the whole con itself. Today, people tend to think of police sting operations (which is rather circular- the original Operation Sting was named for this movie).
- The Great Depression
- Hand of Death: Subverted; it's revealed that the hit man hired to rub out Hooker is named Salino. However, the ominous hands that show up every so often are those of the bodyguard Gondorff hired for Hooker. The bodyguard shoots Salino.
- Hand Signals: The Con Artist recognition signal and Dukie's "stop" sign.
- Hollywood Silencer: A silenced revolver (And it's not a Nagant or one of the obscure designs purpose made for the folks at Moscow Centre) appears at one point.
- In Name Only: The sequel The Sting II starred Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis as characters with vaguely similar names to the ones played by Newman and Redford in the original.
- The Irish Mob: Strangely, in post-Capone Chicago.
- Iris Out
- Karmic Thief: The Con Men scam a corrupt cop who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
- The Magic Poker Equation: Justified in this case because both players are cheating.
- Massive Multiplayer Scam: The "big con". Gondorff and Hooker set up a fake off-track betting joint to con Lonnegan into betting on horses with delayed results so the con men already know the winners.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard
- Mistaken Identity: Lonnegan spends the entire movie sending people to kill Luther's partner Hooker (who he's never seen). Meanwhile, he's heavily involved with "Shaw's" turncoat "Kelly" (who the goons trying to kill Hooker have never seen). He never realizes that Hooker and "Kelly" are the same person.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Gondorff repeatedly and deliberately gets Lonnegan's surname wrong.
- Nose Tapping
- Percussive Pickpocket: While Doyle Lonnegan is walking through the train to the poker game, Billie (Gondorff's girlfriend) bumps into him and steals his wallet. He doesn't notice until after he loses big at the poker game and tries to take it out to pay off his debt.
- Playing Drunk: Gondorff pretends to be drunk to justify acting offensively toward Doyle Lonnegan. To enhance his act he gargles with gin to get alcohol-laden breath and brings along a gin bottle full of water to drink from.
- Retirony: Luther is killed shortly after he tells Hooker how he'll use his share to go straight and support his family.
- Samus Is a Girl: Salino's first name is Loretta.
- Searching the Stalls: Johnny Hooker is trying to escape a hit man trying to kill him. He goes into a restroom to hide. The hit man enters and starts opening doors to find him. He gets to the last stall and realizes there's a woman inside. He figures Hooker went out the window and does the same. It turns out Hooker was inside the stall with the woman -- she was helping him.
- Shout-Out: Hooker loses a bundle at a rigged roulette wheel that comes up 22 -- the same number that comes up on the rigged roulette wheel in Casablanca.
- Stab the Scorpion: The bodyguard reveals himself by shooting Salino.
- Staged Shooting: Hooker and Gondorff, as part of their "big con".
- Standard Snippet: "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin is the film's main theme.
- Talent Double: Gondorff's hands doing card tricks before the poker game are actually those of technical adviser and professional magician John Scarne's.
- Twist Ending: First, Lonnegan hires Solino to kill hooker, and when Hooker is walking through an alley, smiles, seeing his girlfriend, a man behind Hooker pulls out a gun, points it, and shoots her. Turns out he's a body guard Gondorff hired to protect Hooker, and Hooker's girlfriend was actually Solino, the assassin who would have killed him. Second, the FBI guys bust into the gambling den to arrest Gondorff, and per their promise, let Hooker go. At this point, Gondorf shoots hooker, and the FBI guy shoots Gondorff. The FBI guy has the cop rush Lonnegan out of the place. After they leave, Gondorff and Hooker get up, with blood stains like they've been shot. We then find out it was a scam to make both the cop and Lonnegan think they're both dead.
- Underdressed for the Occasion: Gondorff deliberately dresses like a drunken slob at a big poker game with Lonnegan on a train.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The audience is aware of most of the setup, but there are several details that remain hidden until the very end.
- Verbal Tic: Ye follow?
- Video Credits: The opening credits.
- The Windy City
- You Got Spunk: Kid Twist tells a kid who wants in on the con, that he's got Moxie for keeping his mouth shut when a cop beat him up for not talking.