Ocean's Eleven (1960) is a fascinating document of a particular time and place though as a movie it's only fair. It's the first and by far the best of the various "Rat Pack" movies - though that's not saying much - usually featuring some combination of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and a few others like Joey Bishop. It was preceded by Some Came Running (1958), with Sinatra, Martin, and Shirley MacLaine (who makes a cameo appearance in Ocean's Eleven) and Never So Few (1959), starring Sinatra, Lawford, and Steve McQueen in a role intended for Davis, but those really aren't Rat Pack titles in the strictest sense. The later, official Rat Pack movies, notably Sergeants 3 (1962), 4 for Texas (1963), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), are significantly worse.
A lazy caper movie about a group of former World War II commandos planning to rob five Las Vegas casinos simultaneously, Ocean's Eleven is overlong (127 minutes), takes too much time to get going, then generates almost zero suspense during the climatic robbery. The characterizations are thin, schmaltzy, and out of whack - far more emphasis is placed on Richard Conte's character than Frank, Dean, and Sammy combined - but from a historical perspective the film offers a mesmerizing look in and around Las Vegas at the end of the fifties, and captures the essence of what once was considered the epitome of hip.
Warner Home Video's Blu-ray disc is just okay. The transfer of the filmed-in-Panavision production has nice color and shows off its exceptional lighting well, but doesn't quite pop off the screen, either. The extra features are all recycled from an earlier DVD release.
The first half of the film follows the recruiting of Danny Ocean's (Sinatra) old outfit from the 82nd Airborne: wealthy pal Jimmy Foster (Lawford), crooner Sam Harmon (Martin), garbage man Josh Howard (Davis), and Mushy O'Connors (Bishop), Roger Corneal (Henry Silva), Vince Massler (Buddy Lester), Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell), and Louis Jackson (Clem Harvey). Only ace electrician Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte) is a problem: just released from a long stretch in the slammer, he's reluctant to participate in another risky heist. Until, that is, doctors diagnose him with "the big casino" and, privately aware of his terminal illness, he opts in hoping to use his cut to pay for his young son's education.
The first-half of Ocean's Eleven is deliberately murky, intended as a mystery; details of the scheme to rob the Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, and The Flamingo, hatched by excitable Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff), aren't revealed until the film's midpoint, testing the audience's patience. The plan is to blow-up an electrical tower outside of town, plunging the five casinos into darkness. Bergdorf having retooled the back-up systems to open the electrically controlled cashier cage doors instead of restoring the lights, the plan is for Ocean's men to simply walk in and grab all the loot.
Director Lewis Milestone, better known for prestigious dramas like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Of Mice and Men (1939), brings little to this flat, sluggish film. What stylization there is emanates instead from the jazzy Las Vegas architecture, original set designs, and William H. Daniels's excellent lighting and cinematography.
And the aura of the Rat Packers themselves. It's the kind of movie best appreciated deep in the man-cave with a dry martini in one hand, viewed through a thick cloud of second-hand smoke. Dean sings "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," Sammy belts out "Ee-oo-leven," Frank pats women on the butt. It's all very cool in a Playboy-driven era of political incorrectness (misogyny in particular) that often plays laughable and even a bit sad today considering how badly all those years of drinking and carousing eventually caught up with every one of them.
The footage in and around the long-gone Las Vegas of late 1959 is utterly fascinating though, including what seems to be extensive authentic footage of inside several casinos as well, including some of the floorshows. It has none of the big corporate influence of Vegas today and is much more the adults-only, mob-flavored Disneyland it once was.
Video & Audio
Maybe I'm just spoiled after watching White Christmas, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Sound of Music, one after another, but Ocean's Eleven's transfer seemed only fair, the benefits of seeing it in high-def commanding attention only sporadically. The color is richer than I remember from a 35mm screening at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles some years back but that's about it. The DTS-HD Master Audio makes no attempt to create a faux stereo mix, sticking with the 1.0 original. Spanish and French audio are also available, along with subtitle options in all three languages.
Supplements are the same as what was on the DVD way back in January 2002, with nothing bumped up to HD: an audio commentary track with Frank Sinatra, Jr. and co-star Angie Dickinson; an excerpt from The Tonight Show with guest host Frank Sinatra and Dickinson; an interactive Las Vegas Then and Now map; and a trailer.
Ocean's Eleven is definitely worth seeing once but its sluggish pace and thin story doesn't lend itself to multiple viewings. The transfer is adequate but less dazzling than, say, Viva Las Vegas (1964). Modestly recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.