Ocean's 11 and the Best and Worst of the Rat Pack

So the "legendary" original version of Ocean's 11 (Warner Home Video) makes its Blu-Ray debut this week in conjunction with the film's 50th anniversary. The idea of Ocean's 11 -- the Rat Pack hipsters swinging their way through a cuckoo heist in Vegas, baby -- contains lots of promise, but the movie itself is kind of a snooze. (Which is why it was the perfect movie for Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney to remake; why people insist on trying to remake good movies remains a mystery.) Still, the Rat Pack has an enduring cinematic legacy, although they were more likely to shine on their own than as a collective. Ahead, Movieline offers you a quick look at the best and worst that Frank, Sammy and Dean offered to movie history.

Frank Sinatra

Best: The Manchurian Candidate. Yes, he won the Oscar for From Here to Eternity (and he's awfully good in it), but movies just don't get better than this twitchy thriller that's equal parts political paranoia and Cold War satire. Sinatra plays an Army officer who comes to realize he was part of an intricate conspiracy, and it's the hardest-right of politicians who are actually in cahoots with the Commies. Jonathan Demme's remake would have packed a similar punch had he suggested, say, that Bush/Cheney and al-Qaeda were secretly pursuing the same goals of destroying American liberty.

Worst: The Cannonball Run II. It's arguable how much Sinatra actually appears "in" this movie, since his segment was clearly filmed separately -- no one else interacts with him in the shot, and it looks like his half of his one conversation was shot on different day than his co-stars. But generally speaking, this one's about as lazy and awful as movies get, even by Burt-Reynolds-in-the-1980s standards.

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Best: Porgy and Bess. The George Gershwin estate has made it next to impossible to actually see Otto Preminger's 1959 screen adaptation of the famous operetta, but Davis' performance as Sportin' Life stands out -- and not merely because he actually got to sing in his own voice, unlike the film's leads Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge.

Worst: Salt and Pepper. Davis and Ocean's co-star Peter Lawford play a pair of aging hipsters who own a nightclub in late-'60s London, and Davis -- complete with conked hair and bangs -- tries desperately to be James Brown. The movie's running gag is that Davis' character is Salt, while Lawford is Pepper. Get it?

Dean Martin

Best: Rio Bravo. Martin played drunk for laughs in countless movies and on his long-running TV show, but his role in this classic Howard Hawks western as a barfly who finds redemption standing alongside sheriff John Wayne against an army of interlopers provided Dino's greatest dramatic screen appearance.

Worst: The Ambushers. Martin's drunk act got rather tiresome in the goofy Matt Helm series of spy comedies -- one of Austin Powers' direct screen antecedents -- and the worst of them is probably this bit of silliness set mostly in a Mexican brewery. UFOs are involved, along with a group of international "Slaygirls" wearing Oleg Cassini outfits. If only it were as fun as it sounds.


  • Mike the Movie Tyke says:

    Yes, the best part of the original is seeing 1960 Vegas--a collection of sleek hotel/casinos that seem puny (and beautifully simple) compared to the monstrosities that replaced them. The film itself has its charms but is sloppy--with the boys appearing nightly at the Sands I doubt they were enthusiastic for multiple takes. Still, maybe it's just me, but I find the remakes a bit yawn-inducing as well.

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