The Rat Pack partied all night long, and it showed in the original
"Ain't that a kick in the head?" croons Dean Martin in the 1960 version of "Ocean's Eleven." Well... not really.
Steven Soderbergh's remake of the film is generating a flurry of interest in the original "Ocean's Eleven," so much so that it's not easy to find a copy at local video stores — they're all checked out. After numerous calls, I finally tracked one down and settled into an armchair, martini in hand, to experience early '60s cool. (Well, OK, it was a Diet Coke, but hey, I was working.)
After a viewing, I can report that while there's some definite coolness in Lewis Milestone's quintessential Rat Pack film, the original "Ocean's Eleven" is what I least expected it to be: kind of boring.
The Rat Pack, a group loosely consisting of Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, hung out together, drank together, performed together, and made a few movies together in the '60s, of which "Ocean's Eleven" was the first. (Their moniker was said to come from Lauren Bacall, who christened the group "a pack of rats" after a hard-drinking evening with Humphrey Bogart.)
The original "Ocean's Eleven" stars Sinatra as a former paratrooper who rounds up 10 of his army buddies and enlists them in a scheme to simultaneously rob five Las Vegas casinos. (Steven Soderbergh's remake follows a similar plot line, except they rob only three casinos, and the guys are a hand-picked assortment of con men.) Martin plays a nightclub crooner, Davis Jr. a singing garbage man, Lawford a playboy who lives off his rich mother, and Bishop a guy named Mushy who always wears sweaters.
In the movie, the fellows look awfully bleary-eyed, and that's not due to deteriorating videotape — while shooting "Ocean's Eleven" by day, the Rat Pack was performing in Las Vegas' Copa Room at night, then partying until dawn. Martin's biographer, William Schoell, wrote, "Meeting in the steam room after the day's shooting was done, which was never past six p.m., they'd talk about broads and bits of business to do in the act, rarely about the picture."
And it shows. Despite a very swinging Nelson Riddle score (really the best thing about the movie), Saul Bass' snappy title sequence, and the guys' stylish presence in their slim suits and V-necked sweaters, "Eleven" has long, draggy stretches of uninspired acting (particularly by Sinatra, but nearly everyone seems to be phoning it in) and unconvincing writing. The heist is undeniably cool, but the movie takes forever to get to it.
Ripe for remake? I think so. Some eyebrows have been raised over Soderbergh's choice to remake this mediocre-at-best movie, but hey — looks like second time's the charm, baby.
Now I'm going to have that martini.