This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of The Sting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
In many instances a film is like a con: it wants to hook you, it wants to make you personally invested in the outcome, and it wants you to walk away with a smile on your face and slightly less in your wallet. If the endeavor is a success, there will always be enough to suggest that the artist — the film artist or the con artist — knows a truth that you do not. If the endeavor is unsuccessful, the feeling of being cheated will linger and frustrate.
If we apply this analogy to today’s film industry, of course, then the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be considered the most ambitious long con in Hollywood history. But things weren’t as complicated in 1973, and that year produced arguably the least-complicated Best Picture winner ever in George Roy Hill’s The Sting. A complex plot, high stakes for hardnosed characters, themes of friendship and honor amongst thieves — these elements are all there, but they’re intentionally deployed to the background of a filmgoing experience that’s less concerned with a moral message than a good time.
Most of the comic book influences on Batman Begins are fairly evident. Everyone points to Frank Miller’s Year One, the redefining four-part series that put the “Dark” back in Dark Knight, and they’re right to hold that book up as the major influence. Begins relies heavily on Year One for a number of things, not least among them the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Jim Gordon relationship, the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship, the Gotham Monorail, the mention of the Joker at the end, the entire character of Flass, the entire sequence where Batman calls a squadron of bats to his aid (a bat-talion, am I right? Guys?) and, of course, the entire bat-flies-through-window genesis of the hero himself.
So Year One is the obvious one. Nolan and David Goyer pilfered little things from other famous Bat-books as well, often just an image or a line of dialogue. Here’s the Scarecrow in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween, another popular arc:
Goyer brought this to Nolan and said “I think Katie Holmes and the little kid who will eventually grow up to be Joffrey from Game of Thrones would look really good if we added them in front of the horse here” (paraphrased) and Nolan said “true dat, brah” (not paraphrased) and ran with it:
The red eyes and flames are an admittedly nice touch.