Classic Film Review -Ocean’s 11 (1960)

I recently watched Ocean’s 11 for the first time. No, not the version of recent years with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but the original starring Frank Sinatra and members of The Rat Pack.
For those unfamiliar with Hollywood history, The Rat Pack was the name coined for a group of celebrity friends whose original members included Humphrey Bogart and wife Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, David Niven, Spencer Tracy and long time love Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, director George Cukor and others.

By the 1960’s the group membership had evolved to include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. This evolution of The Rat Pack called themselves The Summit or The Clan and it is this group of celebrity friends who starred in the original version of Ocean’s 11.
Lawford, Martin, Davis Jr. and Sinatra
Although the premise of the original is the same, a group of friends plan a heist in Las Vegas, many other details of the story modern audiences are familiar with are different. The only character with the same name as the later film is Danny Ocean, the ringleader played by Frank Sinatra. His group of men are not professional thieves but veterans of WWII from the 82nd Paratrooper unit. Although, they are not professionals, the possess some questionable skills and morals and plan the theft of five casinos with military precision.
One of the most glaring differences between the two films is the development in technology and in the growth of Las Vegas. Because the original version does not have the advanced technology that the later film did, the heist is much simpler to plan and execute despite the fact that it still requires extreme precision.
The 82nd Paratroopers plan their heist.
Las Vegas is almost a character in itself and looks very different from the Las Vegas of today. This was at the beginning of Vegas as a gambling and entertainment hotspot, when casino hotels such as the Sands and the Flamingo were the place to be. At this time Vegas was still very much a small town and this is very evident in the film. The casino hotels are much smaller in every respect, wearing their 60’s design of wood paneled walls, citrus and gold colored accents like a proud fashionista. The casino floor is much smaller, even the entertainment was on a smaller scale with one of the hotels featuring the stage floor directly behind the bar. I must say that this portrayal of Vegas is probably my favorite part of the film. It allows the viewer to travel back in time to really experience not only Vegas, but the 60’s for themselves.
Dean Martin performing at the casino.
Even good ole Frankie sports the citrus trend.
Another glaring difference is the addition of Duke Santos as an antagonist/protagonist. As played by black and white film star Cesar Romero, Duke is the gangster engaged to Jimmy Foster’s (Peter Lawford) wealthy mother. He is not necessarily a bad guy although he unintentionally antagonizes Jimmy simply by his existence in Jimmy’s mother’s life. He is easy going, not easily offended and yet does not hesitate to use his knowledge to make a grab for a share of the gang’s booty. His involvement throws a wrench in the plans the gang has to transport the money out of Vegas and ultimately leads to a very different ending than the one modern audiences know.
As a general rule, I usually prefer an original film to it’s remake (with Sabrina and You’ve Got Mail being exceptions). However, I have to admit that this is another which will fall into the exception category. Maybe because I saw the later release of Ocean’s Eleven first, but I definitely like it better. I think part of that is because in any film where the actors are friends, have established rapport and are able to ad-lib the dialogue, the viewer must have some familiarity with the actors’ friendships and other films in order to catch some of the inside jokes and quips which enhance the film’s story.
In addition, this movie seemed to move at a slower pace and just didn’t entertain me as well as the remake. The three main characters of both films constantly rib each other, but in the later Ocean’s Eleven the humor is also extended to all the supporting characters which makes for a much funnier film. I did enjoy the addition of Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine, honorary female Rat Pack members, in brief appearances. MacLaine’s drunken tourist is spot on and made me giggle. I also liked that the film highlighted the singing skills of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. They both have at least one full length solo. Despite the fact that Sinatra is also famous as a singer, this film chose not to feature that particular talent. Although it is his voice you hear as the ending credits roll.
Despite the fact that I prefer the remake, I’m still glad I watched the original. It’s interesting to see how a familiar story can evolve and still retain it’s heart. If you want to step back in time to 1960’s Vegas, than Ocean’s 11 is a good time machine in which to do so.
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