Ocean's Eleven: 50th Anniversary
Directed By: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Richard Conte, Cesar Romero, Patrice Wymore, Joey Bishop, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Silva
Studio: Warner Bros.
The Film ***
In Ocean's Eleven, Frank Sinatra plays Danny Ocean, a natural born leader and former paratrooper who assembles a team of his old Army Airborne buddies to pull-off an elaborate heist. The plan, conceived by high-strung criminal mastermind Spyros Acebos (Tamiroff), involves the simultaneous robbery of the five biggest casinos on the Las Vegas Strip on New Year's Eve. The group of disciplined and highly trained non-professional criminals is a dream team for pulling off the elaborately timed heist, but even the perfect crime is not above a little bad luck, especially in Las Vegas.
Ocean's Eleven is about as pure a vanity project as any Hollywood star has ever convinced a studio to finance. While the result is not necessarily the most coherent and well-plotted film ever conceived, there is a certain positive vibe conveyed by the large ensemble cast (prominently filled with member's of Sinatra's "Rat Pack") who are so clearly enjoying themselves that it spills over to the viewer and puts them in a forgiving mood. That's just as well because the filmmakers offer up a lot for the viewer to forgive. There's a completely gratuitous subplot involving Sinatra, Angie Dickinson as his estranged wife, and Patrice Wymore as a jealous woman scorned that in no way impacts anything else going on in the film. There's a seemingly complete lack of interest by the filmmakers in the mechanics of the heist which sucks about 85% of the potential suspense out of the film's key set-piece. Uneven pacing unbalances the comic and melodramatic plot turns (the latter mostly involving Richard Conte's character). As a topper, there's even a protracted black face gag with a couple of groaner punch lines delivered by Sammy Davis Jr.'s character.
In addition to the aforementioned fun factor, the positive side of the ledger is filled out by a playful and enjoyable score from composer Nelson Riddle, some similarly fun and frothy cinematography perfect for showing off the neon glitz of Las Vegas circa 1960, and a vey good ending, the discussing of which would spoil it. Devotees of Sinatra, fans of the Las Vegas that was, or fans of anyone in the cast will all likely enjoy at least one aspect of the film. As oddly paced as the plot is, Sinatra and veteran director Lewis Milestone are generous to the supporting cast, giving just about everyone a chance to do what they do well. The cast in turn respond to this generosity by giving performances on a level that the screenplay hardly merits. Martin and Davis are given musical numbers and, as one would expect, they perform fabulously well. More surprising to me was Peter Lawford, who I have seen give a lot of uninspired performances in films both good and bad, but I have to admit is very good as a bored second generation money Mama's boy.
In a film with so many stars, Cesar Romero manages to stand out as the closest thing to an antagonist the film has to offer. He brings exactly the right tone to the role of Lawford's underworld-connected future father-in-law who figures out what is going down and proceeds to play all sides against each other to maximize his personal benefit. As a viewer, I wanted him to fail, but I also thought he would be a fun guy with whom to spend a weekend in Vegas. It is possible that I was over-impressed by Romero because he was the key figure in the only truly interesting plot thread in the film's entire 127 minutes, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The Video ***½
Video is presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p letterboxed to the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Opticals look a bit soft, which impacts the film's opening title sequence in particular, but aside from that, the majority of the film looks quite nice with balanced color and contrast, less noticeable film wear and tear than the 2001 DVD, and light natural looking film grain. Essentially, it looks like a near-flawless film print circa 1960, but with lower contrast and less element wear.
The Audio ***
Audio is courtesy of a lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track. The lossless encoding mainly benefits the playful score of composer Nelson Riddle, which is OK by me as it is one of the highlights of the film. Interestingly, one can easily hear differences in recording quality between the film's score and some of the musical numbers. By way of example, at the two points in the film where Dean Martin can be seen on stage performing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", the musical recording sounds slightly more compressed and has a reduced frequency range compared to the film's score. On a compressed optical track, this would probably not be as noticeable. Alternate Dolby Digital 1.0 language dubs are available in French, German, Spanish (Castellano), and Portuguese.
The Extras ***
The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary while these extras are celebrating their ninth. They are all carried over from the 2001 DVD release of the film and are presented in 4:3 standard definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound unless otherwise noted below:
Under the heading of Behind the Story is the following special feature:
Commentary with Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickinson is a feature length commentary with most of its running time devoted to input from Frank Sinatra Jr. The commentary has a few more gaps of silence then I would like and a few too many bits where Sinatra Jr. lapses into narrating on-screen action, but for the most part, he presents a well-researched screen specific behind the scenes look at the film and its development that is worth a listen if only because it is the only real behind the scenes extra on the disc. Angie Dickinson pops briefly up when her character appears (also briefly) and offers some personal reminiscences of her co-stars and how she came to the project.
Under the heading of Extras are the following special features:
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Guest Host Frank Sinatra (3:45) is a brief clip from when Sinatra filled in for Johnny Carson in 1979 and had Angie Dickinson as a guest. Sinatra and Dickinson reminisce about the making of the film and specifically discuss its ending. Warner Bros helpfully advises viewers that this extra should not be watched until after you have seen the movie right on the Blu-ray menu.
Tropicana Museum Vignette (1:40) is a very brief video piece in which "Legends of Las Vegas Museum" Curator Steven Cutler talks about Las Vegas in the good old days and how his museum, located in the Tropicana, preserves those memories.
Interactive Las Vegas Then and Now Map is a menu driven feature that launches a mini-map of the five Las Vegas hotel/casinos central to the plot of the film which is a replica of the one used by Danny Ocean. Selecting any of the individual hotels launches a brief featurette discussing the history of that particular hotel/casino and Las Vegas in general. Specific details follow:
- Sahara (1:24) features an unidentified voiceover narrator offering minimal information accompanied by vintage film ans stills
- Riviera (3:45) features reminiscences from Auditor Carmen A. Peterson and Cocktail Waitress Doreen Leonard
- Desert Inn (3:12) features reminiscences from Dancer/Dealer Joey Tomaszewski
- Sands(4:49) features reminiscences from Showgirl Margo Tomaszewski and Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson
- Flamingo (3:55) features reminiscences from Joey Tomaszewski and Cocktail Waitress Patty Schmidtberger
Under the heading of Trailers are the following two theatrical trailers, both presented in 16:9 video:
Trailer #1 (3:12) is an extended trailer with a lot of details about the film and its cast.
Trailer #2 (1:02) is a brief teaser without any narration.
The disc is enclosed in a standard Blu-ray case with holes punched in the hard case to reduce plastic use and no inserts. Menus are very straightforward with minimal Java use, so most viewers should be able to use the "resume" function of their player.
Ocean's Eleven is 127 minutes of nonsense involving a group of former Army buddies plotting a simultaneous heist of five Las Vegas Casinos on New Years Eve. Since it provides a fun snapshot of Vegas circa 1960 and the Army buddies are played by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and other members of Sinatra's "Rat Pack", all apparently having a great time, it is sporadically entertaining nonsense. This 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release provides a substantial upgrade to the film's video from the 2001 SD DVD release, showing reduced element wear and tear while still appearing very "film-like", and a lossless mono track that showcases Nelson Riddle's playful score. Extras are carried over from the previous SD DVD and are highlighted by an informative commentary from Frank Sinatra, Jr. with a few interjections from Angie Dickinson.