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The Rat Pack Movie
by Asa Butcher
Issue 7
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Ocean's Eleven
Lewis Milestone

Ocean’s Eleven can be summed up in one word: cool. The cast, the atmosphere, the dialogue and the interaction ooze cool, but then that is not surprising when it involved five of the smoothest operators of the early-60s. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, a.k.a. the Rat Pack, who are on top form and appear to love every minute they are up on screen.

Directed by Lewis Milestone, the man responsible for the 1930 anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front, Ocean’s Eleven had a severely punishing schedule. According to the trivia, most of the photography was completed before sunrise, due to some of the actors also having shows in Las Vegas that they performed nightly during the shooting. The actors would wake up in the afternoon, do one or two shows in the evening, then go through make-up and arrive at the shooting locations for principal photography.

Despite this hectic filming schedule, their camaraderie is entertaining to watch and you get the impression they are not portraying a character, they are just being themselves. Much of the dialogue was reportedly ad-libbed, including when Patrice Wymore throws a dish at Sinatra, which produced a genuine look of surprise on the faces of everybody on the set.

The plot involves eleven friends who were part of the same army unit in World War II and their plan to simultaneously rob five of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. Unlike the Brad Pitt/George Clooney 2001 remake where they rob just one vault, the original gang hit five different casinos (Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, The Sand and The Flamingo) using a master plan that is highly believable. There are a number of homages to the original in the 2001 version, but I won't spoil your fun in spotting them all.

Sinatra and Dean Martin play their usual suave selves, but Sammy Davis Jr. is the one who receives some of the best lines, including the now immortal, “I knew this colour would come in handy some day.” Sammy is also responsible for singing the irritating, yet catchy, main theme song "E.O. eleven" that will stay in your head long after the credits roll. Pay close attention to a number of other cameos throughout the film, especially Shirley MacLaine who took a break from filming Billy Wilder's The Apartment.

One of the best reasons to watch Ocean’s Eleven is the having the opportunity of sharing a few hours with the Rat Pack. There's something thrilling about getting a glimpse into this secret gang that defined cool in the early-1960s before Free Love and the hippy movement made the Establishment something to be rebelled against. The film is often considered as the first Rat Pack films, although Some Came Running actually has that claim, it did inspire further Rat Pack films.

Strangely, other than Sammy Davis Jr. singing the aforementioned song and Dean Martin warbling his way through "Ain't that a kick in the head", there are very few songs - Frank Sinatra doesn't even hum for a moment. The lack of music did ensure it remain a heist caper rather than degenerate into a musical, but 48 years on it would be cool to see the whole group performing some musical number. Oh well, there's always one of the hundreds of Rat Pack documentaries.

Ocean’s Eleven is not a classic, it's not the best heist film you'll ever see and, save for VH1 choosing it as the best Las Vegas movie of all-time, it didn't win any awards, but it is a classy piece of film that deserves your attention, since it offers a little dazzle for the ladies and razzle for the gents. Anyway, how can you go wrong when, in the words of Sammy Davis Jr., "There are eleven of us cats against this one city?"

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Mickey B2008-09-28 12:29:50
Oceans 11... the original, was on PBS last night. I was completely thrilled. It's ben years since I've seen it. And you're right, I've been singing E-O 11 all night long, that and "Ain't that a kick in the head"... happy sigh. They just don't make movies like that anymore.

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