Movie review: ‘Ocean’s 11’ (1960)

The original “Ocean’s 11” was one of the fun projects for Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack,” just as the remake and its franchise would be for George Clooney and friends two generations later. They’re smooth; they’re cool; and you just glide through it all. So, the original “Ocean’s 11” has some great stuff going for it and it remains as watchable today as when it was released (it’s totally great nostalgia). The remake. Well, it’s pretty good all on its own.

‘Ocean’s 11 (1960)’
(1960; 127 minutes; rated UR; directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.)

IT’S THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, NOT THE CAPER

(NOTE: I updated this review by correcting a couple of typos; updating some links and adding a bit of trivia on Jan. 2, 2016.)

It’s neat how current entertainment set in or around 1960, say TV’s “Mad Men,” gets accolades for costuming and sets. If you watch the original “Ocean’s 11” from 1960, you’ll see the real thing: they didn’t have to do anything other than shoot on location and buy off the rack – as if Frank, Dean and the boys bought off the rack.

In any case, “Ocean’s 11” is a flight of fancy … the coolest cats doing cool things and enjoying life to the fullest while drinking and smoking up a storm. Oh, and some don’t take marriage vows completely to heart: asked if character “Danny Ocean” was still married, another quipped, “Yeah, but he’s not workin’ at it.”

Of course Frank Sinatra plays “Danny Ocean” and the rest of his Las Vegas “Rat Pack” pals round out the top of the enormous cast including Dean Martin as “Sam Harmon;” Sammy Davis Jr. as “Josh Howard;” Peter Lawford as “Jimmy Foster;” and Joey Bishop as “‘Mushy’ O’Connors.” Click here for Wiki’s explanation of the “Rat Pack” and why Marilyn Monroe and two other “Ocean’s 11” players (Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine) were considered “mascots” and that Humphrey Bogart founded the original “Rat Pack.”

The plot’s easy because it’s the film is just a set-up for the actors pretty much being themselves. Sinatra is called in to run an operation to steal millions of dollars from Las Vegas casinos (cue very early product placement for the casinos). He rounds up his World War II buddies (“they hold more meetings than the American Legion”), cuts power to the city, gets the money with no muss or fuss and a final twist in the plot is the icing on the cake. Easy peasy, as many characters like to say in Chuck Lorre sitcoms such as “The Big Bang Theory.”

The robbery of the casinos is simplistic compared to what George Clooney and friends had to plot in the remake in 2001 and subsequent sequels (I only count one, “Ocean’s Thirteen,” as a real sequel since the second had the uniquely talentless Catherine Zeta-Jones in the cast). You can read more of my take on the remade “Ocean’s” franchise here: click here for my review of the “Eleven” remake | click here for my review of “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

So, let’s look at the original’s co-headliners:

  • As in most of his performances, especially capers, Sinatra is smooth, assured and confident. It’s easy to see he’s the center of this guy universe and delivers sharp work in a film that would have been all too easy to mail it in. Sinatra had another good caper film in the 1960s (“Assault on a Queen” … click here for my review) but also did drama such as “From Here to Eternity” and cop fare such as “The First Deadly Sin” (one of the first “police procedural” movies and a dramatic turn a cut above his usual effort) and as “Tony Rome” and its sequel, “Lady in Cement.” His songs were used in more than 300 films and TV shows.
  • Martin is at his affable, sidekick best here as he tries to keep Sinatra from doing the caper. But he falls into line with the rest when he sees Sinatra’s made up his mind. Martin has a great scene kissing an uncredited MacLaine to distract her from the gang’s work at one casino and is uncredited but sings “Mother Machree” (he has more than 200 vocal credits in film and TV). His movies include “Airport” and “Rio Bravo” and was nominated for a Golden Globe for “Who was that Lady?
  • The best singer here (sorry, “Old Blue Eyes”) is Davis. He’s got the voice and the moves and his acting is right up there with the rest of the “Rat Pack.” Davis is earnest and makes the most out of every moment of his screen time. He was in “Porgy and Bess” and “Robin and the 7 Hoods” as well as the classic TV “All in the Family” episode where he kisses “Archie.”

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the rest of the supporting cast:

  • Lawford is competent here and his suave British countenance is a plus, but nothing spectacular. His scenes with Cesar Romero stand above the rest. Lawford was in “The Longest Day,” “Exodus” and a variety of TV roles from “The Wild Wild West” to “Bewitched.”
  • Romero plays “Duke Santos,” who’s marrying Lawford’s mom and figures out the caper. The big man (he’s much taller at 6-foot-3 than most actors here and someone is usually sitting while he stands or vice versa … a 5-foot-7 Sinatra doesn’t stand a chance in the physical department). Romero was in TV’s “Passport to Danger” and even shows such as “Charlie’s Angels” in a career that spanned nearly eight decades. He died in 1994 and had an astonishing 201 acting credits to his resume.
  • Dickinson and Patrice Wymore play the female leads, with Dickinson (TV’s “Police Woman” as well as being in “Rio Bravo” and “Dressed to Kill”) doing the better job of the two. Wymore was in “Tea for Two” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and decent here but not making too much of a mark as “Adele Ekstrom.”
  • The rest of Sinatra’s crew are Bishop, Richard (“Anthony Bergdorf”) Conte, Henry (“Roger Corneal”) Silva, Buddy (“Vince Massler”) Lester, Richard (“’Curly’ Steffans”) Benedict, Norman (“Peter Rheimer”) Fell and Clem (“Louis Jackson”) Harvey. They all give a good effort and you’ll find them all watchable and enjoyable, but none give a stand out performance.

One thing I couldn’t quite put my hand on is the meaning behind the name of the film. It is “Ocean’s 11.” Note: singular possessive. Now there is “Danny Ocean” and TEN others … or 11 if you count the money man. In the remake with Clooney, there’s “Danny Ocean” and NINE others … or 10 if you count the money man played by Elliott Gould (his is a bigger role than the one played by Akim Tamiroff in the original). So is it grammatically correct that it is “Ocean’s” 11 guys or a total of 11 in the gang? Either way, one of the films is wrong on this count.

One other thing: the title. I’ve used “Ocean’s 11” in this review. IMDb.com has it “Ocean’s Eleven” and it usually follows the film credits (just as it is “MASH” and not “M*A*S*H” for the film — check the credits as the asterisks were added for the movie poster). The credits for “Ocean’s 11” has both a the numeral 11 and the spelling of “eleven.” Despite the credits being pretty clear about “Eleven,” I’m going with “11” to differentiate it somewhat from the remake “Ocean’s Eleven” from 2001.

Ocean’s 11” was the eighth ranked film at the box office in 1960, according to Wiki, with $5.5 million in receipts. It was a tough year for any film to make its mark with the No. 1 film “Spartacus” at $15 million followed by “Psycho” and “Exodus.”

Other cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • As I noted above, MacLaine was uncredited in her role. In the remake, there was an uncredited role but it was for a major character: Don Cheadle as “Basher Tarr.” For her part, MacLaine ad-libbed her entire part and received a new car from the studio for her work.
  • Noted bad guy actor George Raft plays casino boss “Jack Strager” and was in the original “Scarface” as well as “Some Like It Hot,” “Red Light” and “The Patsy.” As an historical aside, Raft was involved with mobster Bugsy Siegel, a part of the mob’s Murder Inc. assassination organization and the builder of the original Flamingo resort and the prime mover of building Las Vegas’ Strip. Raft even did publicity for the Flamingo.
  • Director Lewis Milestone was a two-time Oscar winner, with back to back wins in 1929 and 1930 for direction of “Two Arabian Knights” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” respectively.
  • Lawford reportedly heard about the story idea from another film director, who reportedly got it from a gas station attendant. Lawford then acquired the rights to the story.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “In the final shot of the film, the eleven walk past the famous sign in front of the Sands hotel. The five members of the Rat Pack … are billed on the sign. They were performing alternately in the hotel’s Copa Room during production, at the “Summit at the Sands.’”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “According to Frank Sinatra Jr. on the DVD Commentary, Sammy Davis Jr. was forced to stay at a “colored only” hotel during the filming because Las Vegas would not allow blacks to stay at the major hotels despite his appearing with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the others at the Sands Hotel. He was only allowed to stay at the major hotels after Frank Sinatra confronted the casino owners on his behalf, therefore breaking Vegas’ unofficial color barrier.”
  • Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016.
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