It’s time for me to dust off my home-made ‘Rat Pack’ embroidered Pompoms with this weeks film. It’s a classic both in terms of cinema history and for my beautiful boys, ‘The Rat Pack’ as this is their most famous film together. It’s not ‘Sergeants 3 (1962)’ or ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)’… Well, you already know what film it is, it’s in the title of the article. I’ve built it up too much now, haven’t I? It’s ‘Ocean’s Eleven’.
Now. The two films that I mentioned above that weren’t ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and involved The Rat Pack, I was of course talking about the famous trio of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr BUT it doesn’t just stop there. Many entertainers did perform with The Rat Pack during their time at the top however in the early days, there were two other additions to the line up. The two gentlemen in question were Mr Peter Lawford and Mr Joey Bishop. These two gentlemen both performed with The Rat Pack onstage and were involved in their various early film projects including, Ocean’s Eleven.
As ever, here comes the plot.
Ironically, there’s something of a ‘Robin Hood’ theme to the story of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ as Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and his band of merry men plan to steal from the rich and keep for themselves. That’s where the comparison ends. There’s a lot of names to get through so let’s keep it snappy. By Danny’s side is smooth, lounge singer, Sam Harmon (Dean Martin), sanitation worker with the golden voice, Josh Howard (Sammy Davis Jr), Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) and Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte).
Also along for the ride are ‘Mushy’ O’Connors (Joey Bishop); Roger Corneal (Henry Silva), Vince Massler (Buddy Lester), ‘Curly’ Steffans (Richard Benedict), Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell) and Louis Jackson (Clem Harvey).
The plan itself is elaborate and demands precision. Together, these men will rob five casinos on the Las Vegas Strip; ‘The Sahara’, ‘The Riviera’, ‘The Desert Inn’, ‘The Sands’ and ‘The Flamingo’ in one night, New Years Eve. Sounds like a challenge but are these guys up to the task? Well of course they are, it’d be a shit movie otherwise.
Before I watched the film, one question did bang around inside my head. With this many main characters, how could the writers possibly balance them all? Having seen the film, I can now answer that question. They don’t. Let me explain.
The eleven thieves are split into main characters and sub main characters. Some of them get fleshed out and some of them don’t. The top five consist of Danny Ocean, Sam Harmon, Josh Howard, Jimmy Foster and Tony Bergdorf who all have vital connections to the plot. The others are colourful in presence and are there for their cut of the cash. And cash there will be. Lots of it.
The film itself has a very ’60’s’ way of developing a story and by that I mean it would be considered a bit of a slow burner by today’s standards. The main plot isn’t revealed until almost an hour in and everything up to that point focuses on the characters, an element that has been lost in that last few decades. Film makers these days have to have the most expensive special effects fired out of a cannon straight into the face of the audience in the first few minutes through fear that they’ll get bored and try to beat their highest score on ‘Angry Birds’. To make the ‘character focus’ element work, the writers have to make sure that there are some really bloody interesting characters on display plus some great actors to portray them.
There’s certainly no shortage of amazing actors and actresses on display here. Frank Sinatra had already been awarded the highest accolade an actor can receive which is of course an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Private Angelo Maggio in ‘From Here to Eternity (1953)’.
Prior to 1960, Dean Martin had given more than a few stand out performances in the genre of drama although some of his best were yet to come such as ‘Ada (1961)’ and ‘Toys in the Attic (1963)’. One noteworthy performance that comes to mind was one that I saw recently and that role is that of Bama Dillert in ‘Some Came Running (1958)’ which also starred Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine who makes an uncredited appearance in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. Of course I have to mention ‘Rio Bravo (1959)’ which is my favourite Dean Martin performance to date. Although it would be another 7 years before Dino would win his Golden Globe for his variety show, ‘The Dean Martin Show’, 1960 was the year that Mr Martin was awarded his star on ‘The Hollywood Walk of Fame’.
In fact, I did spot two ‘Rio Bravo’ connections in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. Angie Dickinson played ‘Feathers’ in ‘Rio Bravo’ but also appears in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ as Danny’s wife, Beatrice. The second is a line from Shirley MacLaine’s character. When Sam asks her ‘Who do I have to be to wish you a Happy New Year?’, she responds, ‘Ricky Nelson’. Ricky Nelson played ‘Colorado’ in ‘Rio Bravo’. I am just filled with knowledge today, aren’t I?
According to IMDB, Sammy Davis Jr holds the same number of acting credits as Dean Martin with
the grand number being 67. Sammy Davis Jr’s first film role was at the tender age of 7 years old in the Musical-Comedy, ‘Rufus Jones for President (1933)’. Being so slim and light on his feet, he was a natural dancer which became the cornerstone of his entertainment career. The best display of singing and dancing that I’ve ever seen from Sammy Davis Jr is his performance of ‘Bang! Bang!’ from the aforementioned 1964 film ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods’. It’s no good just explaining it to you. You’ll have to either watch it on YouTube or buy the movie (Available on Amazon Video), then come back and agree with me.
I think it’s more than fair to say that Sammy Davis Jr always displayed extraordinary talent in both singing and dancing in a career that would span almost 60 years and a legacy that will go on forever.
Sorry, I’ve lost my way. ‘My Way’, get it? I can’t help myself, The Rat Pack are so interesting. I need to get back on track.
Filming for the sections where the boys visit the casinos to set up for the robbery were all shot on location. Since the actors performed in Vegas in the evening; they would get up in the afternoon, perform their shows and then arrive on set in the early hours of the morning to begin filming.
When the clock strikes Midnight on New Years Day and the crowds are singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, the crew pull off the job. The bags of money are dropped into bins which are then collected and driven out of Vegas by Josh who hides them in a secret location. The boys are rich and the plan has been pulled off without a hitch. Almost. Tony Bergdorf who was seen by his doctor earlier on in the film for an undisclosed illness suddenly collapses and dies in the street much to the concern of his comrades. Oddly enough, the only person who puts the pieces together is reformed mobster, businessman and Jimmy’s soon to be step-father, Duke Santos (Cesar Romero). Since he’s already made a deal with the bosses of each casino to find and return the money for 30%, he offers the boys another deal. If they give him 50% of their loot, he won’t say a word.
Our boys need to come up with a plan and quick and I’m not going to tell you the ending because I want everyone to watch it. ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ is available for a reasonable price on Amazon Video. Instead of telling you the ending, I’m going to talk about music.
As is chronicled more than once on this site and is well documented by noted philosophers and historians, I love ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’, performed by Dean Martin and written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for the sequences where Sam is performing for a packed house and some loyal female followers in the front row. A more stripped down version is played in the film and I do enjoy it but you cannot beat the Big Band/Swing version that was recorded alongside.
Along with that particular masterpiece was a charming little number also written by very same duo, ‘Eee-O-11’. I think I’m spelling that right. This cute and catchy song was performed by Sammy Davis Jr in a scene where he entertains his work colleagues before being approached about the job.
The riff from ‘Eee-O-11’ was woven into the score and is played throughout the film.
Having seen the famous Las Vegas Strip for myself and the way it was in the 1960’s, it’s no secret that the city has changed tremendously in the last six decades. It’s changed so much that most of the filming locations no longer exist.
‘The Sahara’ closed in 2011 and was converted in 2013 into the ‘SLS Las Vegas’ in a whopping $415 Million project. In 2017, ‘SLS Las Vegas’ was bought by The Meruelo Group and this year announced an astonishing $100 Million renovation along with the possibility of ‘The Sahara’ name making a comeback.
‘The Riviera’ went bankrupt in 2010 and in 2015, the land was bought for $182.5 Million. From June to August 2016, the hotel and casino was demolished in two separate implosions due to it’s size.
‘The Desert Inn’, where Frank Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut in 1951 closed it’s doors in 2000. Plans to demolish the property and build a new resort were put in place. Demolition was completed in 2004. ‘The Wynn’ and ‘Encore’ now stand in it’s place today.
‘The Sands’ is probably one of the most historic buildings on this list. The biggest attraction to the hotel and casino was ‘The Copa Room’. With a seating capacity of 385, this showroom was accommodated by the most high profile of performers. I’m not going to sit here and name them all because the list is huge. Needless to say, ‘The Rat Pack’ performed there both separately and together. Demolition of The Sands was completed in 1996 and today, the land plays great host to ‘The Venetian’. I’ve been there.
For those of you who are interested, a more modest version of ‘The Copa Room’ can be found at ‘The Tuscany Hotel and Casino’ on East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas. They’ve even got their very own Rat Pack. I’m not even joking. I’ve been there. And they’re amazing. If anyone is in the neighbourhood or planning to go to Las Vegas, I would heartily recommend their show. These guys are keeping the dream alive.
‘The Flamingo’ is the only building that remains standing to this day. I’ve been there. That’s where we saw Donny and Marie Osmond. Of course, it’s undergone some renovations and expansions over the years but the magic is still very much alive.
I couldn’t find a listed budget for ‘Ocean’s Eleven (1960)’ but the box office takings were somewhere in the region of $5 Million. Once again, that figure is based on 1960’s rates. One Second… Got it… If ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ were to be released today, the film would take almost $42.5 Million.
I’ll close with this. I’m not writing this article because of the new film that’s just come out. I’m writing this because (even though I wasn’t close to being born) this film was made at an amazing time that I didn’t get to experience and no amount of remakes or sequels or reboots will make me feel any differently. In fact, I’m working on a sequel of my very own. It’s called ‘Las Vegas: The Return’, coming to a reality near you in February 2019.