The history of con-man films has a number of classics – “The Sting”, “The Hustler”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “The Grifters”, among others. Whenever anyone mentions films on this topic, they get brought up, which is good because they’re all great. But, I think “Diggstown” deserves to be mentioned right up there with the greatest con films, heck, the greatest crime films, ever made.
We start with Gabriel Caine (James Woods) in prison, helping another man escape (and making $10,000 in the process) while watching his friend Wolf and the vicious Menoso Torres having a brawl in the main prison area. The information is parcelled out to us in well-shaped increments, and it’s eventually revealed that Caine, his friend on the outside Fitz (Oliver Platt), retired boxer Honey Roy Palmer (Louis Gossett Jr.), Wolf and a few others have got a plan to commit a con in Diggstown, home of former heavyweight boxer Charles Macum Diggs.
Platt does the initial setting up of the con, then Woods comes in and starts upping the ante, ensnaring the guy who basically owns the town, John Gillon (Bruce Dern). Caine is being bankrolled by the mafia, so a few of their guys get involved too, and all these people circle each other, while Caine and Fitz keep executing their plan – the plan, to make the braggart’s bet that Honey Roy Palmer could beat any ten of the town’s men in a day, using insulting the town’s hero Diggs to get everyone’s blood boiling.
Gillon isn’t just a normal baddie – he effectively stole the town out from under its inhabitants, so there’s many reasons for him to be taken down. But to tell much more would be to spoil the absolutely wonderful way this film unfolds.
I think “Diggstown” (maybe known to us in the UK as “Midnight Sting”, because for once we’re too stupid to watch a film named after a place) is both clever and hilarious. Platt and Woods have great dialogue, which you may well remember from every buddy-cop movie of the time, and it doesn’t go down the typical route and give the star a love interest (the main woman – actually, the only woman – in the cast is Heather Graham as Wolf’s sister, and while she has an important role to play, it’s pretty small).
It’s also one of the best-paced films I can think of. It’s only 97 minutes long, and every scene is worthwhile because they can’t afford to pad it out, with all the plot that has to be put in. Nothing is wasted, and if you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the end, well…I don’t know. Maybe you just don’t like it. Maybe you’re an idiot. Maybe your father was killed in an elaborate scam played on an evil small town magnate.
It’s nice to finally get to review a genuine, legitimate classic for the ISCFC. I hope someone who reads this goes out and sees it, and I hope you enjoy it.