Warner Bros. // 1960 // 127 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 22nd, 2010
In any other town they'd be the gat pack.
"The way I figure it is like this: the eleven of us cats against this one city?"
Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra, The Man with the Golden Arm) and Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford, Advise & Consent) are planning the biggest heist in the history of Las Vegas. Employing the assistance of other World War II vets like Sam Harmon (Dean Martin, Rio Bravo), Josh Howard (Sammy Davis, Jr., A Man Called Adam), Mushy O'Connors (Joey Bishop, The Delta Force), Roger Corneal (Henry Silva, The Manchurian Candidate), Vince Massler (Buddy Lester, The Nutty Professor), Curly Steffans (Richard Benedict, Crossfire), Louis Jackson (Clem Harvey, One-Eyed Jacks), Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte, The Godfather), Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff, Touch of Evil), and Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell, The Graduate), Ocean and Foster aim to hit five casinos simultaneously and take in millions. The potential payoff is huge, but so is the level of risk. Will the guys pull it off?
Movies like Never So Few, It Happened in Brooklyn, and Some Came Running are technically regarded as the first "Rat Pack" movies, but only in that those films happened to co-star certain members of the notorious group (which included but was not always limited to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop). However, Ocean's 11 is the first "real" Rat Pack movie, employing every member of the group and embodying the sort of hip, stylish attitude that defined the gang. As such, it's fondly regarded by fans of these guys (and honestly, if you're a fan of one member, you're probably a fan of 'em all to some degree) despite that fact that the film itself isn't anything to write home about.
Though Ocean's 11 never really slipped away into obscurity, it certainly received a renewed boost in popularity around the time Steven Soderbergh's snazzy, entertaining remake came out. I know I'm going to catch all sorts of hell for saying this, but the remake really does offer a considerably more entertaining viewing experience. It deftly juggles a large cast, presents a thrillingly lucid and tightly-edited presentation of the complicated heist and has style to burn. Unfortunately, that last item is just about all the original Ocean's 11 has going for it.
There are obviously a lot of characters to deal with, and the film makes the mistake of giving far too many of them equal time. It attempts to dole out little subplots and items of interest for just about everybody, and the screenplay rarely finds a way to simultaneously juggle these items and maintain a sense of momentum. Even worse, it keeps the cast members apart for a significant portion of the running time, which only accentuates the acting limitations of many of these folks. The scenes in which all the guys are riffing off each other are nothing short of delightful, but the one-on-one dialogue scenes in which they're asked to carry something more dramatic? Eh, it's nothing to write home about.
Still, the fun scenes are memorable enough to dominate one's memories of the flick, which is probably a large part of why the film has remained in the public consciousness for such a long time. Sinatra brings his impossibly cool persona to the table, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. demonstrate strong comic instincts and even grace us with a couple songs, Akim Tamiroff has a lot of fun in his scenes as the "brains" of the group and there are nifty cameos from folks like Shirley Maclaine (The Apartment) and Red Skelton. Unfortunately, most of the other players don't really leave much of an impression. Even a strong dramatic actor like Richard Conte fares poorly, as his curiously grim scenes play rather awkwardly in contrast to the rest of this feather-light fluff.
The second half of the film is almost entirely devoted to the heist, and I have to confess that I found it all a little disappointing. The pacing is irritatingly erratic, and the details of what's happening tend to get rather hazy. Once again, it's the little moments of fun punctuating the plotting that that make the film worth seeing. Diehard fans of the Rat Pack are bound to find the movie a entertaining ride, but the majority of viewers are likely to find it a mostly forgettable affair.
I was hoping that the 1080p/2.35:1 transfer would really allow the glitter and polish of Sin City to pop off the screen, but that's not really the case. The image is disappointingly average most of the time, with only moderately respectable detail and a surprisingly flat presentation of the film's vibrant color palette. It's definitely an HD transfer, but it doesn't look dramatically better than it would on DVD. There's also evidence of minor digital noise reduction at times, though not enough to get angry about. It's not a terrible transfer, but it certainly could have looked better. The audio is solid as well, though the 5.1 mix isn't going to keep your speakers very busy (even during the chaotic casino sequences). Still, the dialogue is crystal-clear and the music comes through with strength.
In the extras department, we get the same stuff that appeared on the previous DVD release: a so-so commentary with Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickinson (recorded separately), a clip from The Tonight Show with Frank Sinatra serving as guest host (4 minutes), a "Tropicana Museum Vignette"(2 minutes), some trailers and a digital pop-up version of Ocean's Vegas map. Meh.
Note: There seems to be some debate as to whether the title is Ocean's 11 or Ocean's Eleven (the main title sequence, which offers the word superimposed over the number, doesn't help much). Soderbergh's remake is officially entitled Ocean's Eleven and the cover of this version reads Ocean's 11, so let's leave it at that.
I'm glad fans of Ocean's 11 are getting a chance to see the film in hi-def, but the movie remains an underwhelming experience. More important as a piece of film history than as a piece of entertainment, this Blu-ray release is only recommended for genuine Rat Pack enthusiasts.
Guilty, if you can catch 'em.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* TV Clip
* Interactive Map