Monday, March 5, 2012

#567. Bugsy (1991)

Directed By: Barry Levinson

Starring: Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Harvey Keitel

Tag line: "Glamour Was The Disguise"

Trivia:  After working on this film, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening were married

Barry Levinson’s Bugsy details the dramatic rise and fall of Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a 1940’s-era mobster who, if history is to be believed, was the man responsible for putting Las Vegas on the map. An often romanticized look at the life of this charismatic criminal, the movie also shows, in sometimes graphic detail, the violence that went hand-in-hand with the lifestyle. Equal parts Shakespeare and Scorsese, and with a powerhouse performance by Warren Beatty in the title role, Bugsy is one of the finest period crime films ever made. 

Volatile New York gangster Bugsy Siegel (Beatty) takes a "business" trip to Los Angeles, and has such a good time soaking up the sun that he decides to make California his new home. He quickly forms a partnership with the explosive Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel), and soon, the two are controlling the rackets for the entire west coast. Having laid the groundwork for a new criminal empire, Bugsy next encounters the two most important “inspirations” of his life: actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), with whom he falls deeply in love, and the small desert town of Las Vegas, which gives him a brilliant idea. Looking to build the very first Vegas casino / hotel, Bugsy borrows money from his former partners back east, including good friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), promising to make them all wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Unfortunately Bugsy can't control Virginia's extravagant spending habits, and when the casino starts losing money, a few of those old acquaintances figure it's time to bring Bugsy’s west coast career to a grinding halt. 

“Electric” is probably the best word to describe Beatty’s portrayal of Bugsy Siegel, a gangster who, at times, seemed to have the energy of a dozen men, and could accomplish more in a single day than most might in an entire month. Take his first day in California, for instance, which he kicks off by meeting up with his childhood pal, movie star George Raft (Joe Mantegna), who invites Bugsy to tag along with him to the studio. Siegel's impressed with what he sees there, so much so that he even arranges a screen test for himself. Then, shortly after leaving the studio, he bullies opera star Lawrence Tibbett (Joe Baker) into selling him his swanky Beverly Hills mansion, which Bugsy moves into almost immediately. Later that night, having also purchased a new car to go with his new house, Bugsy meets with Louie Dragna (Don Calfa), the head of the California rackets, and convinces him it’s in his “best interest” to allow the New York syndicate to take control of the entire operation. He accomplishes all this over the course of a day, and doesn't slow down one bit from that moment on. Throughout the film, Bugsy's mind is always spinning, with ideas popping in and out at the rate of about a dozen a minute. Of course, if he hadn't spent so much time on the go, he might have realized Virginia was skimming $2 million off the top of the casino's building fund. But if Bugsy is to be believed, Siegel never was a good businessman; he was an idea man, and ideas don't always translate into profits. 

But let’s give the guy some credit…Las Vegas was a hell of a good idea!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

This has been on my "to watch" list for a long time. I need to move it up.

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: Definitely worth a watch! And please be sure to stop back and let me know what you think when you see it.

Thanks for the comment!