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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

OCEAN'S 11 (1960) -- Movie Review by Porfle



The skinny, earnest kid of ANCHORS AWEIGH and ON THE TOWN had already grown into a more worldly and somewhat cynical character by the time of GUYS AND DOLLS, but by 1960's OCEAN'S 11 we find a Frank Sinatra who has matured into the icy cool, cosmopolitan, and slightly shady Las Vegas megastar persona that would define the rest of his life. 

The quintessential "Rat Pack" movie, OCEAN'S 11 reunites Frank's former WWII paratrooper sergeant Danny Ocean with his old Airborne buddies played by Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop, in one of those scathingly brilliant heist schemes to relieve five major Vegas casinos of several million dollars at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

I didn't care much for this slow-moving, bland-looking heist tale with production values that sometimes resemble those of a Quinn Martin cop series from the 60s.  At least, not the first time I watched it. 


A second viewing, however--without the burden of my previous expectations blinding me to its modest charms, and with the advantage of Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s knowing commentary--revealed it to be a fun "hang-out" movie in which you get to spend some quality leisure time just palling around with Frankie, Dean, Sammy, and their cool friends.  And before it's over, that simple robbery plot which seems so pedestrian at first delivers a couple of nifty, nasty twists that are pretty neat.

We watch as Danny (Sinatra) and Jimmy Foster (Lawford) get the old gang together one at a time for the caper, which takes up pretty much the whole first half of the movie.  (One thing's for sure, this flick isn't in any hurry to get anywhere.)  There are a few detours, as we see Danny dealing with his neglected but faithful wife Beatrice (Angie Dickinson) and a hostile spurned lover played by Patrice Wymore. 

Jimmy, meanwhile, must endure the presence of his wealthy mother's new husband Duke (Caesar "Butch" Romero, who would soon play The Joker to Adam West's Batman) in order to hit her up for his usual "allowance."  Sammy, as usual, brings his own boundless energy and cool-cat appeal to his role of a garbage truck driver whose job is to collect the stolen cash from each casino. 


Not even counting some welcome cameos and bit parts by the likes of Red Skelton, Shirley McLaine, and George Raft, the cast is impressive.  Filling out the "eleven" are Richard Conte (Don Barzini in THE GODFATHER), Jerry Lester (of Jerry Lewis' THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES' MAN), cult superstar Henry Silva (of Lewis' CINDERFELLA), Norman "Mr. Roper" Fell, Akim Tamiroff, and other worthy character actors. 

The main stars, of course, are just fun to watch, especially Dean Martin in total "don't give a f***" mode and Frank effortlessly holding it all together without even singing a note.  (Dean croons "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" two or three times, while Sammy performs the theme song "Ee-Oh-Eleven.")

Directed by Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, OF MICE AND MEN), OCEAN'S 11 has a relaxed, informal air and never takes itself too seriously, but it isn't a slapdash affair.  While some of the acting and direction may seem flat at times, this is one movie that just doesn't feel like breaking a sweat if it doesn't have to.  And that awesome ending shot is just the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino makes a mental note to copy later.


It kinda struck me as A HARD DAY'S NIGHT for the pre-Beatles generation--a day in the lives of our favorite hipster bad boys in their natural habitat, just being their narrow-tie-wearing, scotch-swilling, chauvinistic selves. 

It does get serious at times, though--as when Richard Conte's character Bergdorf, recently released from prison and estranged from wife Jean Willes, visits his little boy in military school for what may be the last time.  Or when his doctor gives him the bad news about his heart, leading to this pricelessly arch bit of dialogue: "Listen Doc, give it to me straight...is it the big casino?"



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William Clark said...
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