Judge Victor Valdivia made millions skimming casinos for the mob, then wasted it all on lottery tickets. Ah, sweet irony!
From its mob roots to streets of gold.
Gambling. Murder. Violence. Corruption. These are the forces that shaped the city of Las Vegas and its relationship to the Mafia. These are also things that the seven stupefying hours on this DVD set don't come close to making even remotely interesting. There's about three hours of interesting content here, but padded out to about twice as long as it needs to be with filler and repetition, this DVD set becomes impossible to watch or appreciate.
Here are the 10 episodes collected on two discs:
• "Las Vegas Before the Mob"
• "The Mob Comes to Las Vegas"
• "Las Vegas' Golden Age"
• "On Top of the World"
• "Vegas Reinvents Itself"
• "The End of Mob Rule in Las Vegas"
• "Corporate Vegas"
• "Las Vegas—America's Third City"
To be sure, there is a good story here. The segment on how the mob actually came to Las Vegas does actually explore the real roots of the mob's involvement, instead of merely rehashing the same myth that Bugsy Siegel singlehandedly built the city. The section on how Howard Hughes bought out the mob's interests in casinos without actually purging their influence or corruption is full of impressive detail. The segment on the history of Las Vegas before the 1940s is the best one, full of history that's fascinating and little known outside of Vegas. There's no question that in relating the story of how the Mafia turned Las Vegas from a sawdust joint Western town into a high-class European casino resort city, Vegas does tell the whole story. It also describes the city's attempts to free itself from its mob past, and how those attempts, still going on today, have changed the city constantly. It's a very good and thorough history of Las Vegas and on those terms, is at least worth watching.
The problem is that it's just too badly assembled. Ten episodes of 45 minutes apiece is just way too much for this story. There's no shortage of repetition here. How many times will you hear the full story of how Meyer Lansky sent Bugsy Siegel out to the west coast and Siegel decided to set up a casino in Las Vegas? At least once per episode, sometimes twice. How many times will you see the same poster of Casino every time the names of "Lefty" Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro (the gangsters portrayed in the film) are mentioned? Far too many to count. More than anything, though, episodes will repeat information presented in earlier ones for no good reason. The episode of corporate Vegas, for instance, contains a history of prewar Las Vegas. This isn't just a brief paraphrase of the earlier history episode; this is a complete history that lasts nearly 20 minutes. What's the point? We've already seen this information. There are several moments like that on this set, where episodes repeat, at great length, stories that were told on earlier episodes.
Technical specs are characteristic for this type of set—archival footage mixed in with more recent video, all in full screen, with a PCM stereo track. It looks and sounds fine, depending on the quality of the footage. The extras are actually not bad—a fairly detailed text timeline and a photo slideshow.
Ultimately, the decision to make this a series of ten 45-minute episodes was a huge mistake. It would have been better to simply put together a comprehensive film of three or four hours that told the story without the endless repetitions and filler. Even the "opening credits" for each "episode" last an excruciating five minutes. They only add to the overall tedium. Vegas: The City the Mob Made, then, is just too bloated to really be worth recommending. Although it does tell an interesting story, even hardcore Mafia buffs will be disappointed by it.
Guilty of being mercilessly padded.
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