The original 1960 “Ocean’s 11” is a curious thing. We all think we know the story. Going back to that original movie, it’s quite a blast from the past, a remarkable study in the popular tough guy mythos, and solid entertainment that still packs a punch. At this point in their careers as leading men, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford, were at the respective ages of 45, 43, and 37. They were not “young” anymore. Much of what happens in this movie, despite being light entertainment, is a contemplation of fading glory and death. I’m not sure, but if the creative team had wanted to push a little further, they could have pursued a more nuanced edge. As it is, this is a gem that finds some room for subtlety.
A wonderful bit of advice for someone getting older but still in the game, whatever that might be, is to not be afraid to embrace youth but also embrace your own age. That is the dynamic at play between Danny Ocean (played by Frank Sinatra) and his “pals.” All these guys should know better but they all want to risk it all. In fact, considering it was 1960, the undercurrent theme of aging thrill-seekers, and the consequences they will confront, has less to do with art and more to do with catering to the moral compass of the times. Oddly enough, this classic have proven a reliable template up to the present.
Ol’ Blue Eyes is best served by reigning in the Lothario. Even Dean Martin keeps it classy for the most part. That’s not to say that these guys don’t stumble because they do. There is plenty of stumbling in this classic of men behaving badly. Sure, there’s a heist in this movie. It’s a heist that is supposed to blow out all the lights in Vegas, baby. But, in its own way, this is a gentle guy flick, giving guys a good dose of wish fulfillment, circa 1960.
“Dames” play a big role in the wish fulfillment of our leading men. Danny is fine with messing around with the girls but the guy is still holding a torch for his estranged wife, Bea. You can’t blame him as Bea is played by gorgeous 29-year-old Angie Dickinson. Why can’t Danny and Bea work things out?
“As long as your luck holds out, you’ll stay in love with danger,” is what Bea has to say to Danny.
“I didn’t expect to be perfect just because I fell in love with you,” is how Danny sees the situation.
The lines are delivered as wooden as the script. But, hey, it’s Sinatra and Dickinson. Here is plenty of wish fulfillment for any guy: Your sexy wife is okay with whatever you’re up to as you figure things out. Be a good tomcat, try not to get into too much trouble. And that is basically what Danny Ocean sets out to do. With all his 82nd Airborne Division buddies gathered around, and a fool-proof scheme, he’ll clean out Vegas and win back Bea.
The spare and “wooden” vibe to this movie is actually very interesting. It is meant to evoke a good piece of pulp fiction. It definitely has a look and style in mind. The characters and the story are important but, in the end, this is a fantasy mostly concerned with style. It would make sense if director Lewis Milestone and the writers on the screenplay, Harry Brown and Charles Lederer, had the musical comedy about gangsters, “Guys and Dolls,” on their minds. It had come out only five years prior as a major motion picture adaptation and it happened to have Frank Sinatra as one of its stars. Easy to see how things would develop from there.
“Ocean’s 11,” at least the way it turned out for this original movie version, is a fun, even campy, movie about movies. There was the original story by George Clayton Johnson and Jack Golden Russell that had a different slant on things, including a far more elaborate getaway plan. In the end, I think each version couldn’t help but play off the theme of men behaving badly. With such stellar figures as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford, they knew how to do justice to the myth of the Rat Pack.