Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.
REEL 13 CLASSIC | OCEAN’S 11
This week’s classic is Oceans 11, the original comic crime caper directed by Lewis Milestone.
By the time of Oceans 11’s release in 1960, Frank Sinatra was very much the embodiment of his nickname, “The Chairman of the Board,” the true kingpin of mid-century American entertainment. Sinatra had also become official ringleader of “the Ratpack,” a kind of floating celebrity frat party said to have originated with Humphrey Bogart but which by the late 50s had become completely associated with Sinatra and his “posse”: Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., and let’s not forget Joey Bishop as its core members. Always interested in new projects that might employ the talents of “the pack,” Sinatra became intrigued with a Las Vegas casino heist story that Peter Lawford had optioned, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to make a movie with his pals as well as to gather the gang together to perform some of their wildly popular impromptu concert shows on the Vegas strip. And thus, Oceans 11 was born.
Sinatra stars as Danny Ocean, a dapper man about town living a playboy life that resembles that of, well, Frank Sinatra. Along with his cohort Jimmy Foster, played by Peter Lawford, Danny organizes a reunion of eleven old army buddies for one more top secret mission: to “liberate” millions of dollars from five major casinos along the Las Vegas strip. “Oceans 11” begin to assemble from far and wide, but the toughest old pal for Danny to get back into the fold is his estranged wife Bea, played by Angie Dickinson. Another fly in the ointment is Danny’s mother, whose new fiancé Duke Santos, played by Cesar Romero, is a reformed mobster who starts to suspect that something fishy might be going on. Rounding out the large cast are cameo appearances by George Raft, Red Skelton and occasional Ratpack mascot, Shirley MacLaine.
Upon hearing the basic plotline for the first time from Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra reportedly quipped, “Forget the movie, let’s pull the job!” And in the final shot of the movie, the casino marquee with the names of Sinatra and his co-stars is the Sands Hotel, where the Ratpack’s nighttime concerts during production allegedly generated an 18,000 name waiting list for an 800 seat theater. Veteran director Lewis Milestone—once known as the American Eisenstein for his work on films such as the 1930 anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front—was just returning to Hollywood after years on the blacklist, yet working with Sinatra was far from the Vegas lark he had been expecting. The star had a very clear idea of what he wanted the film to look like, and Milestone was reduced to yelling “action” and “cut.”
Of course, in 2001 director Steve Soderbergh famously helmed a hugely successful contemporary reboot of the film starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts, which launched an entire Oceans franchise that has now grown to include Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, as well as the all-female Ocean’s 8, just released in 2018.
REEL 13 INDIE | NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
This week’s indie is Nothing but the Truth, a 2008 political suspense drama directed by Rod Lurie.
As played by Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga, Rachel Armstrong and Erica Van Doren look like a couple of Moms in suburban Washington, DC, casually chatting at their kids’ grade school soccer match. But listen closer, and their true identities emerge—and with a clash of steel. Rachel is a reporter for the fictitious Capital Sun-Times, and Erica is a covert CIA operative, recently returned from a trip to Latin America to investigate whether the Venezuelan government was involved in a recent presidential assassination attempt. Rachel is doing her final fact checks on a story that outs Erica as an undercover agent, with the Sun-Times all set to rush the story onto the newsstands the next day.
If this all sounds familiar, it might be because Nothing but the Truth takes its inspiration from the true story of reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed in 2005 for refusing to name her source in the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent. But at the dramatic core of the film is Rachel’s unswerving refusal to reveal her source for the confidential information about Erica, despite the steadily increasing pressure for her to do so. How long will Rachel stand by her principles—even as the damage to her career and personal life begins to accumulate—and more importantly, why ultimately is she doing it?
Also starring are David Schwimmer as Rachel’s husband, Angela Bassett as her editor, Noah Wyle as the Sun-Times’ legal counsel, Alan Alda as Rachel’s dandyish lawyer and Matt Dillon as the Federal prosecutor who’s folksy charm belies his ruthless pursuit to break Rachel’s contempt of court.
Nothing but the Truth premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2008, with a limited American release planned for December of that year. But when the film’s production company filed for Chapter 11 protection, that pretty much ended hopes for a theatrical release permanently. The film was finally released, on DVD, in April 2009 by Sony Home Entertainment. Curiously, all the current attacks on the press actually make the film even more relevant today than it might have been when originally scheduled for release. Floyd Abrams, who portrays Judge Hall in the film, was in fact one of the lawyers defending The New York Times and Judith Miller in the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame case; initially he was hired by the production as a consultant before being cast as Judge Hall by director Rod Lurie. A more specific movie dramatization of the “Plamegate” scandal was released in 2010 as Fair Game starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, adapted from Valerie Plame’s own 2007 memoir of the story.