They don't make 'em like they used to

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 114

They don't make 'em like they used to
Ocean's 11 (1960)


Eleven Reactions to Ocean's 11 (1960)

• The Las Vegas of 1960 is stunningly, unbelievably rinky-dink. The cityscape is flat; the leading casinos look like small-town motels. Their grand New Year's parties look like a senior prom put together by an unambitious prom committee on a tight budget. It's not a matter of modest midcentury scale—the buildings and interiors away from Vegas are lavish. The rumpus room where the would-be heist artists gather to lay out their scheme is practically Auric Goldfinger's compound. But Vegas proper, the destination of the movie, always looks cheap and cruddy. 

Party scene with yellow balloons at every table and showgirls on stage at the left with an emcee speaking into a stand microphone.

• Part of why we decided to watch Ocean's 11 was that the 12-year-old enjoyed Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, from 2001. The 2001 Ocean's Eleven is one of those movies that captures the way that popular cinema peaked around the turn of the century—the look, the pace, the tone, everything but Brad Pitt's haircut feels lively and fully contemporary more than two decades later. The 1960 Ocean's 11, on the other hand—specifically, on the minute hand of the clock—is palpably antique. For a snappy caper movie, or for any movie really, it takes forever to get going, even granted that the gag for the first hour is supposed to be about cool Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) baiting the impatient mastermind-but-not-leader Spyros Acebos (Akim Tamiroff) with his leisurely preparations. (Was that the same character as Reuben? the 12-year-old wanted to know.)

Frank Sinatra, shown from the chest up, sits in the center of the frame facing slightly to his left, or the viewer's right. He wears a shirt with a wide, floppy white collar under an orange sweater with a thickly cabled V-neck and a knit so fuzzy that a nimbus of orange fluff outlines him. Behind him and rubbing his right shoulder is a woman in a bleached-blonde beehive with blue eye shadow and bright red lipstick, wearing a dark sweater with a tan collar and yoke outlined in white.
Fuzzy sensation.

• Frank Sinatra's fuzzy orange sweater in the beginning exists outside any understanding I can muster of style, era, climate, or season. Is it angora? Did he borrow it from Angie Dickinson? Has there ever been a greater distance between the fuzziness of a garment and the non-fuzziness of the person wearing it? 

Dean Martin, tanned, shown from mid-chest up in a tuxedo with black bow tie, cocking an eyebrow and wrinkling his mouth. The edge of the spotlight shining on him shows on the gray-green curtain hanging behind him.

• I'd never bothered paying attention to Dean Martin. Big Eye-talian, teamed up with Jerry Lewis, Jerry Lewis was grating and repulsive, what was there to know? But Dean Martin steals every scene he's in in Oceans 11 like Bugs Bunny steals carrots. Bluff and sly at the same time, totally charismatic, 100 percent committed to entertaining the people inside the frame and the people on the other side of the lens. Fine and funny singer. Dean Martin!

Sammy Davis Jr, shown from the waist up in slim gray coveralls over a white turtleneck, throws up his arms and sings with his mouth wide open. To the right of him are the head, shoulders, and hands of a man in the same outfit playing a tilted harmonica. Behind them, in the dark, a line of garbage trucks with shiny yellow cabs and white bodies recedes from right to left.
Sammy Davis Jr.

• Sammy Davis Jr. had some pipes. Polished inside and outside, those pipes. The movie may waste a lot of time but stopping everything to give him a musical number, and breaking any pretense of realism to pipe in the background orchestration at a garbage truck depot, makes perfect sense. 

Peter Lawford, in a dark suit with a thin black tie, leans with his right hand in his hip pants pocket, his left elbow on the bar, and a cigarette held at chin level between the index and middle of the otherwise splayed and slightly curved fingers of his left hand. He has a pinky ring. Just behind him, to the left, Frank Sinatra in a darker suit, three-buttoned, with a peach-colored pocket square, white shirt, and dark tie, leans his left elbow on the bar and takes a drag on a cigarette tucked between the fingers of his splayed right hand. Both are looking off to their left. The smoking gestures help highlight both of their well-shot cuffs, Lawford's being French with a visible cufflink. Behind them the bar is hung with silver tinsel and red crepe-paper bells over a sign that reads "7 Dwarfs Bourbon." The bartender, at the right of the frame in an unbuttoned suit jacket, is facing the same way and has a cigarette raised to his mouth in his left hand.
Sinatra and Peter Lawford hooving coffin nails at the bar

• Smoking cigarettes sure did give a person something to do with their hands. 

• Robbing five casinos at once is a doomed exercise, narratively. You don't bring the team together to disperse them—and the climax of the action—across five separate locations at once! Soderbergh was much, much better than [checks Wikipedia page] Lewis Milestone at juggling multiple characters, and presumably part of that was having the common sense to have them all do one impressive heist instead of five versions of the same petty-looking heist. 

Ten men, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin toward the center, lean inward in a tight semicircle to stack their hands on a yellow handkerchief on a greenish-blue pool table. Except a blond man in a plaid Western shirt and jeans at the far right end, all of them are brown-haired and wearing suits.
A lot of guys.

• Being too young to remember when the Rat Pack members were truly famous, I found more than half of the Eleven impossible to tell apart, interchangeable swarthy guys who clearly expected the viewer to know who they were. Peter Lawford I kept track of for a while, but once Dean Martin showed up and crowded him out, I forgot which one he was again. I wouldn't recognize Joey Bishop if he starred in a one-man show called "I'm Joey Bishop" wearing a JOEY BISHOP t-shirt. 

• Every now and then something truly, incongruously vicious flickers in Frank Sinatra's eyes.

Richard Conte, in a tuxedo, stands turned sideways and holding open a service door, the bottom covered in sheet metal, that leads into a back hallway. A vertical ladder made of lumber is against the wall of the hall. Conte wears a furtive expression and is reflected full-length in the shiny surface of the door, in case he needed to draw any more attention to himself.

• Lewis Milestone's theories of explanatory acting, or the Rat Pack's efforts to bring those theories to life, run totally opposite the demands of suavely and plausibly pulling off a heist. Every nod and wink or passing rendezvous between members of the Eleven is so blatant it might as well be soundtracked with a gong; every furtive move through a doorway is telegraphed so heavily you expect the cops and security guards to come running. 

• George Clooney's Danny Ocean would have seen the final twist coming and twisted around it without breaking a sweat. Amateurs. 

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A dull fuzzy sky with clouds that look like dryer lint

New York City, July 7, 2024

★★ The bedroom air conditioner had never gained the upper hand on the heat overnight, its thermostat unable to call a break. The fig was starting to droop again. A parade of young people in navy blue t-shirts, chanting and beating drums, crossed the avenue at the end of the block. Morning clouds at least made it credible that the errands skipped yesterday would be possible now, though the very first step into the stairwell was already hot. The sun didn't exactly come out, but the glare got harsher, so that it hurt to look up. Dried and shredded scraps of fireworks paper lay in the gutter. The air felt like dryer exhaust. The navy blue t-shirts and drums were coming up Amsterdam now, singing "Alleluia." The motion of stepping from the sweltering t-shirt platform onto the cool train car dislodged a drip of sweat inside the mask. Up and out of the subway again the sun was getting stronger. The furniture store clerk handed out sweating bottles of cold water. Full direct sun speared down at the line outside Gray's Papaya, sending a woman to park a stroller in the narrow band of shade against the wall. By late in the day the light was clear and rich. Clusters of gold-tinged peppercorn clouds evolved into trailing streamers, like slow-motion pyrotechnics. 

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Tom Scocca reads you the newspaper.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Egg Sandwiches with Anchovy a la Uppland

Sandwiches d’Oeufs aux Anchois à l'Uppland
For Nine Persons

Three eggs, a half pimento, three spoons of butter, a teaspoon of anchovy paste, three olives, pepper and salt.

How to Make It. Hard-boil the eggs, time about twelve minutes; leave in the water until cold and when cold cut the side of the egg where the white is thinnest; scoop out the yolks carefully so as not to break the whites; leave the whites in cold water until ready to stuff. Stir the butter to a cream; add the pimento and olives that first have been chopped and pressed through a fine strainer; add cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Fill the eggs with the mixture; leave in the ice-box until cold and then dip a knife in hot water and slice the egg in even slices lengthwise, three from each egg. Cut slices of bread, spread with the butter and anchovy paste mixed and cut it out with a round biscuit cutter; put on each one of the slices of eggs; the rest of the white of eggs chop very fine; add to it one full tablespoon of finely chopped parsley. Decorate with it evenly all around the slices of egg which will leave a space on two sides of the sandwiches; stir the rest of the yolks to a cream; add to it some more butter if needed and color with a little orange coloring. Put in a paper bag that holds a ribbon tube and decorate on each side with it and in the center put two strips of truffles across.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to 

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Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the thunderstorms start.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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