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Oceans Apart

The new "Ocean's 11" is a smart, well-crafted ride. The 1960 version was an all-expenses-paid party for the Rat Pack.

11:01 PM, Dec 6, 2001 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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IF YOU'RE WONDERING just how cool "Ocean's Eleven," Warner Brothers' remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film, is, simply go to their website. Everything you need to know before watching the movie (or writing a review) can be found here. You can spend hours going through videos, trailers, interviews, and bios while a retro-hip soundtrack runs through each page. As for the film itself, one thing is perfectly clear: This is no Rat Pack movie. George Clooney is no Frank Sinatra. Brad Pitt is no Dean Martin. And Don Cheadle is no Sammy Davis Jr. (though he played Sammy in HBO's "The Rat Pack").

But it is precisely because it's not a Rat Pack flick that the new "Ocean's Eleven" triumphs over the original. Back then, the acting was uninspired, and the writing, despite some script-doctoring by Billy Wilder, was tepid. You get the feeling Dean Martin can't wait to roll out the drink cart. And the complaints about Sinatra are legendary. During the filming of one scene, planes were causing too much noise above the soundstage, forcing numerous takes. Sinatra lost his patience after the fourth take, saying, "Aw, fuck it! Everyone knows they're airplanes," to which fellow cast-member Peter Lawford replied, "Indeed! But flying through a bathroom?"

Sinatra didn't have time for a serious movie. He told Sammy Davis Jr., "We're not setting out to make 'Hamlet' or 'Gone with the Wind.' The idea is to hang out together, find fun with the broads, and have a great time." At the moviegoer's expense, that is. As Lawrence Quirk and William Schoell explain in their book, "The Rat Pack," "Drinking, carousing, performing at the Sands, and making love to the broads all interested [Sinatra] a lot more than making the movie, and it shows."

Of course at the time, "Ocean's Eleven" was a smashing success. "Absolutely no one noticed just how bad the movie was," says David Evanier, author of "Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story" and a Rat Pack aficionado. "The Rat Pack were the style setters of their time and at the peak of their popularity," he tells me. "They could do no wrong. Audiences filled in the blanks for them." And Jerry Weintraub, producer of the new "Ocean's Eleven," says, "What people went to see in the original film was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop on screen together. They could have been reading the telephone book and it would have been exactly as successful."

And the fortunes it made for the Rat Pack were considerable. Dean was paid $150,000, and Sammy got $125,000. Lawford, who bought the script in the first place and sold it to Frank, received one-sixth of the gross, making him almost half a million dollars. And naturally Sinatra came out on top: $30,000 for the story, $200,000 for the acting, and a third of the gross. Not bad, considering he had hardly ever worked. As Shawn Levy details in his "Rat Pack Confidential," Frank would show up on the set at "4:30 in the afternoon, maybe 5:00; and twice, TWICE, before lunch; and most days not at all. They worked on the picture twenty-five days in Vegas; Frank showed up nine."

That the original film was even completed can be credited to veteran director Lewis Milestone, whose previous movies included "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Of Mice and Men." Milestone was a model of patience on the set. He knew how to work around Sinatra. In 1962 he said, "Some people think Frank is arrogant and overbearing and something of a bully. Well, he isn't really; he just won't take crap from people."

All of this is a far cry from the new "Ocean's Eleven" directed by Steven Soderbergh. This time the emphasis is on serious actors and a seamless plot. In fact, the remake bears little resemblance to the original, in which Danny Ocean, played by Frank Sinatra, assembles ten of his fellow 82nd Airborne mates to pull off a heist of five casinos on New Year's Eve. The casinos they planned to rip off were the Sands, the Desert Inn, the Riviera, the Sahara, and the Flamingo (today the Sands and the Desert Inn are history). The total jackpot was $11 million. In the 2001 version, George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, recently released from prison. He gathers ten professional conmen to pull off a heist of three casinos, the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand, for an estimated $150 million. All three are owned by one man, Terry Benedict (played soullessly by Andy Garcia).1 And it would all go down during a prize-fight.