Monday, May 16, 2011

You dirty rats

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except that tonight on TCM you can see everything that happens in Vegas as TCM is showing a bunch of movies set in Las Vegas. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM ET with the original 1960 version of Ocean's Eleven.

Frank Sinatra stars as World War II veteran Danny Ocean, a man with a plan. Specifically, he has a plan for striking it rich by robbing all of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip! Of course, such a plan can't be carried off by one man alone, so Sinatra gathers a bunch of his old army buddies and lets them in on his plan. It involves being in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve and, at the stroke of midnight, shutting down power to the entire Strip. While the power is out, they'll get the money from the safes, put it in trash bags, and have a garbage collector who is actually one of their confidants take the money away.

Now, like any good hesit film, Ocean's Eleven has three elements. First is the set-up, when we learn about the plan. That's followed by the execution. The most interesting, however, is always the last one, the denouement, in which the Production Code requires the plan to fail. In most heist films, the failure comes because a bunch of criminals don't really trust each other, and start turning in on themselves: see The Asphalt Jungle for an outstanding example of this. Ocean's Eleven, however, is more of a comedy heist movie. So, what derails the plan isn't so much the characters themselves, but the fact that somebody gets a heart attack in the middle of the street, disrupting the plan's precision timing. Oh, there's greed too, but that only begins to come in after the plan goes bad.

But what Ocean's Eleven is really best remembered for is the presence of the "Rat Pack", Frank Sinatra and his friends who partied and were known for being famous almost as much as they were known for anything else. In addition to Sinatra, there's Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. And there's a young Angie Dickinson for good measure. Portions of Ocean's Eleven were filmed in Las Vegas while the Rat Pack members were doing their stage shows at the casinos. Since they all knew each other and seemingly were doing this as a side project, they all look like they're having a lot of fun together. And, in fact, "fun" would be a good word to describe Ocean's Eleven. It's nowhere near as serious as The Asphalt Jungle, and frankly doesn't have any pretensions to be serious. It's one of those movies where you can just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and have a lot of fun watching.

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