By Randal Hill
Las Vegas takes our money, sure, but what if the tables were suddenly turned and we took their money? Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
In 1958, actor Peter Lawford paid $10,000 for a story idea that a movie-director pal claimed to have heard from a gas station attendant. Lawford then approached his fellow members of the celebrated Rat Pack (the men preferred the more dignified nickname of The Summit), which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop.
Lawford shared a proposal about using the idea for a heist-caper film set in Sin City. When he heard the concept, Sinatra joked, “Forget the movie, let’s pull the job!”
The Ocean’s 11 plot line became a setup for the five hard-drinking, chain-smoking, dame-chasing headliners to make whoopee on-screen, which they did with ease and aplomb as they adlibbed many of their lines.
The premise of the gather-the-guys yarn stars Ol’ Blue Eyes as leader Danny Ocean. He has assembled a squad of Army-veteran paratrooper pals for a civilian commando raid in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. Each participant exudes a different level of passion and each has a personal reason to be involved. One hopes to help his wife stop stripping for a living. Another is terminally ill and wants to provide for his kid’s college tuition. Yet another sees a chance to buy his way out of a mundane life that includes driving a truck.
The plan was to simultaneously cut off the electricity at midnight at five major casinos—the Sahara, the Riviera, the Desert Inn, the Sands and the Flamingo. The thieves would then break into casino cages, stuff $5 million in cash into trash cans, and have one of the raiders drive a treasure-laden garbage truck out of town and into hiding. But, to prove that (Hollywood) crime never pays, one of the 11 scofflaws unexpectedly dies and a monkey wrench is tossed into the mechanism of the “perfect” plan.
Sinatra and Martin earn the lion’s share of screen time together, with Frank once saying, “You know, sometimes I think the only reason I got into this caper was to see you again.”
Cameo appearances weave through the story and include such icons as Shirley MacLaine, Red Skelton, Angie Dickinson and George Raft.
Filming often took place in Las Vegas in short bursts during the daytime before the superstars appeared on stage to perform for the likes of JFK and other celebrities of the time.
The original Ocean’s 11 became one of Warner Brothers’ most profitable pictures upon its August 1960 release. And while some movie critics harrumphed that the tale was immoral, most reviewers declared it a romp – and quite a clever scheme.
The original Ocean’s 11 is now a low-tech time capsule that delights to this day and it allows us to appreciate larger-than-life fellows with oversize personalities who try to live life by their own rules.
Check out this classic; it’s one of the reasons we once loved going to the cinema.