Gambling’s big numbers in film

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Hollywood has long had an interest in bringing the glamour of gambling to the golden screen.

This has ranged from the original and classic Ocean’s 11 (1960), starring Frank Sinatra and his rat pack, proving the way to win in Las Vegas was to rob the casinos and setting the bar high where all heist movies wold follow, to Casino (1995) starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone which depicted the darker side of gambling, with organised crime, murder and the Mafia in Las Vegas, along with some more classic casino scenes.

Although the history of gambling in film is peppered with examples showing the allure and excitement of the casino and more often than not often set in the glamorous location of Las Vegas, a Hollywood blockbuster is yet to feature the humble game of bingo.

Given the increasing popularity of bingo, particularly in its online format, it’s surprising that it hasn’t already made it to the big screen. Although the bingo hall or online sites such as Winner Bingo or BGO may not match the appeal of a glamorous casino location perhaps the time will come for a British Bingo Hall comedy feature film.


The Ocean’s Eleven series

For the moment, though, the casino usually remains the focus of any gambling movie. Directed by Lewis Milestone, the original Ocean’s 11 (1960) starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) recruit their World War Two compatriots to pull off the biggest casino heist in history – the robbing of four casinos in Las Vegas in one night, the biggest one of the year in Las Vegas – New Year’s Eve. They plan to cause a city-wide electricity blackout and to rig the wiring in their target casinos so that when the emergency generators switch on all of the doors of the cashiers offices open.

To infiltrate the casinos and case the joints the men take up all sorts of jobs within the casinos include waiters, busboys, dealers and entertainers. All goes according to plan until one of the crew Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte) suffers a heart attack and dies just after the robbery. The death gets the police suspicious as to whether there is a connection between the death, the black out and the casino robberies.

Duke Santos (Cesar Romero) a former gangster offers to recover the casino owners’ money for a cut. He confronts the thieves and demands half their sway. In desperation, the thieves hide the money in Bergdorf’s coffin, but the plan ultimately backfires when his body is cremated taking their loot up in flames with it.

Ocean’s 11 was re-made in 2001, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy García, Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, and Don Cheadle. Marketing for the film cashed in the original by presenting the male members of the cast – Clooney, Pitt and Damon – as the new rat pack.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is a thief who has just been released from prison on parole. He seeks out his former partner in crime Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) who offers him the inside track on a job to rob three casinos of more than 150 million dollars in one night. All goes when until Rusty finds out that Ocean’s ex-wife Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts) is the partner of the most ruthless owners of the casinos Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Ryan asks Ocean whether he would choose his wife or the job if it comes to it, but Ocean says that if they follow his plan he’ll be able to have both.

Whilst the path to commercial success in Hollywood is often through the well-trodden path of a remake there is none so well followed as the sequel. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) was followed by Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), with Catherine Zeta Jones and Al Pacino joining the cast in Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen.

Ocean’s Eleven total gross was $183 million, whilst Twelve pulled in $125 million which was almost matched by Thirteen’s $117 million generating a cool $426 million for Warner Bros from the trilogy.

We’ll have to wait and see if there’ll ever be a bingo movie made that comes close to the success of heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen one day!