(Or: Bad movies we love for no good reason)
Everyone has their favorite movies or sometimes a list of their “10 Favorite films” etc. Celebrities, film scholars, filmmakers, critics and fans have been polled ad infinitum about what they consider to be their favorite cinematic masterpieces. Some of these lists have been published and the various selections puzzled over, praised, criticized and argued about.
At the other end of that spectrum are the guilty pleasures, films we love and can’t intelligently justify as to why we love them. Bad movies we love that everyone else hates. In most cases these films aren’t just bad in the usual sense of the word, they’re appalling. Yet we love them with a passion that approaches religious fervor and could watch them over and over again without becoming tired, bored or impatient when almost everyone else would run screaming out of the room. The reasons for loving such films are multiple and inexplicable therefore one should never try to explain such madness to others. Because no matter how articulate you are or how hard you try they’ll never understand it anyway.
One true guilty pleasure for me is the original Oceans 11 (Lewis Milestone,1960). Forty one years later (2001) this story has been refashioned into a slick, well packaged bit of Hollywood razzle dazzle that resulted into two high grossing sequels (Oceans 12 and Oceans 13). But as they say in the commercials promoting the reruns of Law and Order; “The original is still the best.” At least in my mind anyway.
This remake doesn’t come anywhere near the original which was a rambling, stumbling, somewhat clumsy hunk of Hollywood absurdity starring Frank Sinatra and his now famous “Rat pack” which included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and the John Kennedy connected Peter Lawford. The plot is about how 11 Army commandos using what they learned in the US military go to Las Vegas and simultaneously rob 5 casinos on New Year’s Eve. The narrative thrust of this film and its digressions have to be seen to be believed, or disbelieved. So why do I love this film? For all the reasons that make it a bad and terribly unfocused film.. The plot is so loose and implausible (except for a nice snappy twist at the end) that one can virtually ignore it and focus on Frank and his friends playing around in their natural habitat, Las Vegas, gambling Mecca of the US. The sunshine, the chicks, the gangster element suggested by the presence of George Raft in the cast and just the whole ambience of Vegas as the somewhat innocent sin capital of America in the 1950s.
Then there’s Sammy Davis Jr. playing a garbage collector who sings the title song. Through it we get a glimpse of the dynamism that made him one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th Century. And there’s Dean Martin, playing a club singer, he gets in a solid number (“Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”)through which we get to luxuriate in the laid back charm of his night club persona. There are other grace notes in this loose limbed riff as well. Angie Dickinson as Danny (Frank Sinatra) Ocean’s wife, Patrice Wymore as a quintessential Las Vegas witch spelt with a B. Cesar Romero who nearly steals the picture with his flashy style and old school Hollywood acting savvy, and finally Richard Conte who gives the only affecting performance in the film. These and a few other things keep me going back to the film on DVD year after year. But the thing that really centers all of it is Sinatra, a walking contradiction, if there ever was one. A man and performer who at the snap of a finger or the turn of a mood could either come across as an arrogant fool or an inspired near genius. Probably the best pop singer of the century and certainly the best singer turned actor Hollywood has ever produced. In this film he doesn’t sing and hardly acts at all but nevertheless he holds the film together and gives it a reason for existing. For these and other reasons I find the film a real kick in the head.
There were other “Rat Pack” movies that followed Ocean’s 11: Sergeants 3 , Robin and the 7 Hoods . All had numbers in their titles for some reason but they provided nowhere near the guilty pleasures of Ocean’s 11, which for my money is the only true “Rat Pack” movie.