Hot on the heels of the original Arthur two weeks ago and the original The Thomas Crown Affair last week comes another great film that Hollywood thought it could improve upon. If you've seen the George Clooney remake, you know the gist: Eleven friends team up for a heist to end all heists. And while the action still goes down in Vegas, the original does it all with classic '60s style. Not convinced? Here are 11 more reasons to watch KCET's presentation of Ocean's 11 at 9 p.m. this Sunday.
The Rat Pack. It's a knock against your pop culture literacy if you can't identify at least some of the members of the so-called Rat Pack, as the group reads like who's-who of 60s entertainers: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Many don't know, however, that the group -- which originated in New York, not Las Vegas -- initially centered around Humphrey Bogart, with Lauren Becall as the "den mother." Only with Bogart's death in 1957 did the group take on the formation familiar today, with Sinatra front and center.
The JFK connection. One more bit of Rat Pack history that's too good to pass up. Lawford's days in the group were numbered. The husband of Pat Kennedy until 1964, Lawford was the brother-in-law to JFK. In 1963, Kennedy nearly stayed at Sinatra's Palm Springs estate, and, according to Wikipedia, Ol' Blue Eyes even constructed a helipad to facilitate the president's trip. In the end, however, JFK opted instead to stay with Bing Crosby, possibly out of reluctance to associate himself with Sinatra's mafia connections. Sinatra was pissed and blamed Lawford, whose part in the 1964 Rat Pack musical, Robin and the 7 Hoods was taken away... and given to Bing Crosby. What's that? That doesn't have much to do with Ocean's 11. I know. But isn't that interesting?
The opening credits. I'm a sucker for a nicely done intro, and Ocean's 11 most definitely has one. Check it out:
See? The '60s weren't all bourbon-soaked, Mad Men-style gloom. This charming animation sets the mood for the light-hearted escapade that follows. The designer, Saul Bass, is responsible for some of the most memorable credit sequences in movie history, including those from Psycho, West Side Story and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
The gentlemanly thief, part two. Last week, I noted how appealing The Thomas Crown Affair makes larceny seem. In this film, Sinatra's Danny Ocean does exactly the same as he gathers his pals to loot five of Las Vegas' major casinos. Overall, these would-be thieves aren't as calculating as Steve McQueen in Crown, but they sure as hell make stealing look like fun. Why don't your friends ever get together and do anything so exciting? Seriously -- why? You think about that.
Vegas as it was. Don't be fooled -- the shots of the guys walking around Beverly Hills apparently were not filmed on location. Some of the Vegas scenes were, however, and it's a kick to see Sin City in a different light. No doubt our grandparents were up to all manner of debauchery, but the Vegas seen in this film still seems somehow pristine. Of the hotels that Ocean's boys hit, only the Flamingo and the Riviera are still open today. The Sahara, while still standing, is closed, while the Desert Inn and the Sands have both been demolished.
The ladies. If you've seen the 2001 remake of Ocean's 11, you might have noticed the rather minimal female presence. The only prominent woman in the film -- Julia Roberts, as Danny's wife -- doesn't have all that much to do. Angie Dickinson plays the same role in the original -- and hits that perfect medium between cute and smoldering the whole while -- but there's a healthy roster of other supporting female players that figure into the scheme. It's weird, when you think about it, that a movie released in 1960 would afford the female characters more to do than the remake released in a more progressive era.
One lady in particular. Shirley MacLaine does a great drunk girl. Watch for her as a New Year's Eve reveler who had one too many.
Another lady in particular. Patrice Wymore plays Danny Ocean's mistress. She has a few good scenes, but watch for the one where she chucks a candy dish at Sinatra. It was ad-libbed.
Sammy Davis Jr. He's a scene stealer, and one line in particular -- "I knew this color would come in handy," spoken to his cohorts as they're applying blackface to elude capture -- is perhaps the film's most memorable. But don't forget that it was an earlier age. According to DVD commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr., Davis was only allowed to stay in hotels with the rest of the Rat Pack after Sinatra Sr. demanded that Davis be treated the same as his co-stars. Go Frankie.
Mushy O'Connors. Yep, that's Joey Bishop's character's name. It's a damn good name, don't you think?
Happy New Year. Again. And you thought the holidays were behind you. Nope! Ocean's 11 is a holiday film, with its beginning just after Christmas and its climax right on New Year's Eve. Even if you thought you were feeling yuletide fatigue, Ocean's 11 will make you have another go-round.