Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Las Vegas and Its Casinos Don’t Stand a Chance Against “Ocean’s 11”

World War II veterans, members of the 82nd Airborne, are being rounded together for “a, uh... reunion” -- as Roger (Henry Silva) so succinctly puts it to electrician and recently released convict, Tony (Richard Conte). Soon, Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) has collected ten of his men, also including Sam (Dean Martin), Josh (Sammy Davis, Jr.), Jimmy (Peter Lawford), Mushy (Joey Bishop), Vince (Buddy Lester), Curly (Richard Benedict), Peter (Norman Fell) and Jackson (Clem Harvey). Ocean finally explains that the “project” is a rather ambitious heist -- to knock off five Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve, and each man walking away with one million dollars to fill his pockets.

Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960) features all five members of the so-called “Rat Pack” -- Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Jr., Lawford and Bishop. The film also stars Angie Dickinson as the estranged Mrs. Ocean, Cesar Romero as the shady fiancé of Jimmy’s mother (Ilka Chase), and Russian actor Akim Tamiroff as Spyros Acebos, who helps Danny organize the caper. There are also a few cameos: George Raft as a casino owner, Shirley Maclaine as a woman who’s had a few too many (and is easily distracted by Martin’s character), and a hysterical Red Skelton as himself, who makes a scene when the casino refuses to take his check (since he has clearly hit his limit).

Ocean’s 11 is not memorable solely for the cast. It also emphasizes lively characters and an exceptional plot. Ostensibly dropped in the midst of a story already begun, the audience is immediately presented with a multitude of individuals, generally discussing a scheme of some sort (referred to as an operation, a picnic, etc.). Some of the men are looking for others, almost like a chase, which is fitting for viewers who may feel as if they’re trying to keep up with the little details they’ve been provided. The film is nearly halfway complete when Danny reveals what the men will be doing.

Many of Ocean’s eleven are highlighted, individualizing certain characters so that the gang doesn’t blur together as i
nterchangeable thieves. Tony has lost touch with his wife and young son since he served time. He needs the money so that he can settle and hopefully reconnect with his son in military school; at the same time, Tony sees a doctor and receives distressing news. Similarly, Vince wants to get his wife out of a burlesque club, and Jimmy wishes to be independent of his wealthy mother. Their trade may be larceny, but these men are not ruled by greed. They face the same troubles and concerns as many other people. Danny loves his wife, Beatrice, but must acknowledge that they can no longer be together. Josh was forced to give up his dreams of playing baseball due to an injury sustained during the war. Strong, likable characters make the team construct all the more sound, and because they fought together as a team in World War II, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, in the very basic sense, they’re stealing money.

The performances from the entire cast are delightful. As much fun as it is to watch the men being recruited, it’s even more gratifying to watch the caper go down. The inevitable obstacles heighten the suspense, with Danny’s ex-girlfriend, Adele (Patrice Wymore), and Jimmy’s stepfather-to-be creating waves. Actor Silva was more popularly known for playing villains (e.g., John Frankenheimer’s 1962 The Manchurian Candidate -- with his Ocean’s 11 co-star, Sinatra -- and Steven Seagal’s debut, 1988’s Above the Law), and he is surprisingly charming as Roger. Romero might be best remembered as The Joker in the 1960s Batman TV series. Fell was known to television audiences as Mr. Roper in the successful series, Three’s Company (for which he won a Golden Globe in 1979), as well as its spin-off, The Ropers. He was also nominated for an Emmy for the 1976 mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man.

Milestone had twice won an Academy Award for Best Director, for 1927’s
Two Arabian Knights (the very first year for the Academy Awards, the only time that the Best Director category was split into “comedy” and “drama” -- Milestone’s was the latter) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He was also nominated for The Front Page (1931), and his 1939 Of Mice and Men was nominated for Best Picture. Actor Tamiroff was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe (at the Globes’ inaugural ceremony) for the 1943 film, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The same year as her cameo in this film, Maclaine starred in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, for which the actress was nominated for an Academy Award and awarded a Golden Globe (and also won, for good measure, a BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress).

In 2001, Steven Soderbergh directed a stellar remake with a star-studded cast, including George Clooney as Danny Ocean, as well as Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Don Cheadle. Though not as dramatically engaging as the original, it was an amusing and highly enjoyable affair, performing well at the box office. Two stars of the original, Silva and Dickinson, appear in cameos. Two rather bland and lamely titled (although successful) sequels invariably followed, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).

Marking its 50 year anniversary, Ocean’s 11 makes its Blu-ray debut today. The features, although all carryovers from the previous DVD release, are a treat: an audio commentary with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and Angie Dickinson, Las Vegas Then and Now map casino vignettes (focusing on each of the targeted casinos -- the Desert Inn, the Flamingo, the Riviera, the Sahara and the Sands), an excerpt from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Sinatra as guest host and Dickinson as star (and with a spoiler alert, as they discuss the film’s ending), and trailers. There’s also an Easter egg; just look for the extra pair of dice. The hi-def transfer is beautiful, with rich, bold colors and an immaculate soundtrack. For more information on this release, see the Warner Bros. Blu-ray site.

Warner Bros. provided a copy of this Blu-ray to Classic Film & TV Cafe. Photo stills courtesy of Warner Bros.


  1. Sark, Wonderful review to one of my favorite films of the 60s. I watched again, when TCM had it on the other day. I loved the final shot of the film, when the eleven walk past the famous sign in front of the Sands hotel.... oops, I dont want to give away the ending.

  2. Good review, Sark! I haven't seen this movie in years, and would like to again. I love Sinatra, and the Rat Pack always personified the Las Vegas I wanted to see. Now that it is family oriented with strollers everywhere, I'm not interested as much. Isn't it strange that pictures of the Rat Pack rarely include Joey Bishop?

  3. Splendid review, Sark, of a 1960s cult classic (hey, it stars the Rat Pack!). As you know, I love movies where the plot requires someone to round up a team. For me, this is a great time capsule film that captures the "coolness" of the 1960s. I love that you highlighted some of the supporting players, such as Silva (who did indeed become typecast as a baddie) and Patrice Wymore (the last Mrs. Errol Flynn). The photos are great, especially the first one showing all 11. Another stellar job and also a great Christmas present recommendation for fans of the stars.

  4. Excellent post, Sark, and I agree with you about Soderbergh's gifted remake followed by the flat sequels. Like Becky, I have often wondered why Joey Bishop was treated as an afterthought from discussions and photos of the Rat Pack. After reading your review, I want to revisit Milestone's work again. Bravo!

  5. Sark, I've never seen the original, but I have seen Clooney's Ocean's 11. I have to say I rather favor him as Danny Ocean over Sinatra. If the original is as good as the remake (as you indicate) I might have to watch it.

  6. good review..sark!! a fun pic..the original..i think the remake series is up to OCEANS 111 or ?...what always surprised me was LEWIS MILESTONE as director..he of OF MICE AND MEN & ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT!!..maybe THE FRONT PAGE was his warm-up???

  7. Sark, enjoyed your review of one seriously iconic film of the early '60s , the definitive "rat pack" film. In those days there was nothing more cool...though that all changed within just a few years. I enjoyed Soderbergh's remake, but preferred 12 to 11 (except for Julia Roberts). Love Vincent Cassel (recently and currently hot in MESRINe and BLACK SWAN). 13 was fun if only for Pacino's (increasingly dependable) over the top turn.

  8. As much as I hate to admit it, I haven't seen the original Ocean's 11 (I know, shame, shame). Saw the remake, which, frankly, I didn't care for (to me, it seemed as if "the gang [does] blur together as interchangeable thieves" in that one!) - But I love heist movies, and this sounds like a good one for summer - thanks for your excellent post.