Ocean’s 11 (1960) – “The odds are always with the house, with the house!”
The best part about Ocean’s 11 is the ending. Which is not to say that the movie is bad, but there is a long, slow build-up before anything starts happening. That closing scene of Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack has become so iconic, and for good reason. They are walking past the Sands Hotel, where the names of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop are displayed on the marquee. It’s all very meta. And as a resolution to the events of the movie, it’s an interesting twist.
Danny Ocean (Sinatra) is hired by an ex-con (Akim Tamirof) to pull off a heist on five Las Vegas casinos, so he gathers his old Army commando buddies to help him out – Sam Harmon (Martin); Josh Howard (Davis); Jimmy Foster (Lawford); Mushy O’Connors (Bishop); Roger Corneal (Henry Silva); Buddy Lester (Vince Massler); Richard Benedict (‘Curly’ Steffans); Norman Fell (Peter Rheimer); Clem Harvey (Louis Jackson); and Richard Conte (Anthony Bergdorf).
My first thought when I saw Richard Conte was “Oh my God it’s Barzini!” And throughout the movie I was so scared that he’d betray Danny Ocean like he did Don Vito (he doesn’t). In fact, he plays quite a big role in the caper since he’s the master electrician and is in charge of all the electrical thingamajigs that will allow the gang to break into the safes. Dean Martin gets a job as a lounge singer so they have a plant in the casinos, while Sammy Davis, Jr. is tasked with bringing all the money to a safe place until they can divide everything. The rest have their own special assignments, but to be honest, I found it hard to keep track of everybody else.
The movie is not what you could call fast-paced. It takes its own sweet time getting to the heart of it, which in a heist movie is the heist, duh. The action starts happening only after 40 minutes, when they start planning the operation. This scene also offers a surprising moment of gravity, because Martin’s character is the only one among the eleven to express doubts about what they’re trying to do. It’s a nice change of pace for Dean Martin to play something serious, since he’s not exactly known for heavy drama.
But that’s the thing about Ocean’s 11. You watch it because of the Rat Pack, not because of the story. And it is fun to see Sinatra, Lawford, Martin and Davis together. They’re so relaxed in the scenes, probably because they’re just goofing off with friends. There are a couple of laugh out loud scenes too. In one, Lawford is asking his mother for more money (or “M-O-N-Y”, according to him) while Martin is nonchalantly playing piano in the background. The faces he makes while Lawford is talking, and his interjection about how to spell “money” correctly, are hilarious. Another scene involves Lawford, Sinatra, and Martin donning blackface while Davis deadpans, “I knew this color would come in handy!”
They do pull off the robberies, but like I said, the ending is not cut and dried. It’s worth it to watch the entire film just for that. It has its flaws, but the Clooney remake does not even remotely hold a candle to it. Because Sinatra and his pals were actually cool, without having to lift a finger. Clooney and company, on the other hand, practically fall all over themselves trying to force everyone to believe they’re half as cool as the Rat Pack. No chance.
I shouldn’t even waste any space on Clooney, but the point is that Sinatra’s 11 beats the pretenders so hard, it’s not even fair.
And what other movie has that picture-perfect closing scene?