In the right part, Frank Sinatra was a pretty good actor. I’m thinking of roles like Von Ryan’s Express, The Detective, and The Manchurian Candidate. This is not one of those roles. Akim Tamiroff can also be good, but he’s given nothing to work with here other than going apoplectic every two minutes or so. Other than that, there is no acting talent on display in this movie. None. Everyone else is a Hollywood Hack, many of them from the so-called Rat Pack. (Which I was surprised to learn seems to have been founded by Humphrey Bogart, and included almost all the top-level stars from that era, people like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.)
The 1960s, taken as a whole, was a lousy time for the movies. Hollywood was terrified by television, didn’t know how to cope with it. The transition from the wonderful black-and-white comedies and dramas that came before and the new freedom that came with the ‘70s saw some of the worst formula dreck ever produced. And it’s funny. I find that I can more easily slip into the milieu of movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, or a terrific color recreation of those eras like Chinatown than I can into these light-drenched, hip productions of the ‘60s … and I was alive when these were made, and going to the movies regularly. But it’s like an alien world to me, all these women in tight undergarments, super-shiny huge cars with tail fins, and cheesy sets meant to look classy.
It is usually a mistake to re-make a movie, but Steven Soderbergh’s version, and the sequels that followed it, are miles better than this turkey. George Clooney really shines in the part of Danny Ocean, and the Chairman of the Board does not. With Dean Martin, one of the worst actors ever to step before a camera, and token Negro Sammy Davis, Jr., on board, naturally a few time outs have to be taken for them to sing us a little song. (For some reason, Sinatra does not sing.) The dialogue is terrible, so stilted and artificial and flat-out unbelievable that you just want to laugh most of the time.
It takes almost exactly one hour, half-way through, before we get to Las Vegas, site of the big heist, and boy, what a difference fifty-plus years have made. The huge casinos, the Sands, the Desert Inn, the Flamingo, and the other two, all but one of which are only memories now, look dinky, tawdry, cheap, the rooms about on the level of a tired old Holiday Inn of today. The casinos couldn’t compete with the meanest little Indian casino now. The patrons all look like losers and low-level gangsters in silk suits and floozies in evening gowns. What a shithole Vegas was in 1960!
The caper itself is pretty simple and basic, and the idiots that planned it manage to screw themselves up in some pretty basic and simple ways just by not leaving it alone when they had it well-hidden. No, they had to keep moving it around, and of course eventually they screw it up. I guess it still was hardly possible for “bad guys” to triumph in the movies in those days, even though there was no longer any actual code of moral enforcement. But I’m so happy we no longer labor under constraints like that. Of course, the victim of a caper like this pretty much has to be a worse character than the robbers, but still, it’s progress.