Looking back at the initial run of Hollywood’s Master Storytellers, as I’ve often said, one of my favorite guests was George Clooney. He’s smart, articulate, insightful, down to Earth, and has a wicked sense of humor. In fact, of all the great guests we’ve had over the years (and they’ve all been terrific) the only one who barely edged out George as my favorite was Drew Barrymore, who shares the same qualities as George, but gives a much better “hug.”
One of the things I respect so much about George is how smart he usually is in choosing his material. I was reminded of that recently when I had the opportunity to watch the 1960 and 2001 versions of “Ocean’s Eleven” thanks to the TCM On Demand app and the new HBO Max service. Hollywood loves to do remakes of popular older films. Most of the time, those remakes excel in mediocrity, to put it politely. But every once in a while, the remake is actually better than the earlier version. Cecil B. DeMille pulled this off with his 1956 remake of “The Ten Commandments” (the earlier version was a silent epic), as did William Wyler with the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur.” Ironically, the most recent version of that sand and sandal epic did not live up to the Wyler version. One of our other HMS alumni, Pierce Brosnan, launched his Irish Dreamtime production banner with a remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” which I think was far superior to the 1968 version starring Steve McQueen. I’ll be discussing those two movies in an upcoming blog.
But let’s get back to “Ocean’s Eleven.” The earlier version was a clever heist movie starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford, aka “The Rat Pack” as a group of ex-GIs who decide to pull off an elaborate casino theft in Las Vegas. Other than that, and the heist team’s name of Danny Ocean, the stories are completely different. Don’t get me wrong. The 1961 version of this story is entertaining as hell with a terrific ensemble cast. But the 2001 version boasts a much more sophisticated story that’s almost like a “Mission: Impossible” episode in the cleverly complex plot that Danny Ocean and his team pull off a nine-figure cash theft from Terry Benedict, the fictitious owner of the real-life Bellagio Hotel in Vegas, played by fellow HMS alumnus Andy Garcia. Adding an interesting twist to the story is the fact that Mr. Benedict is currently dating Ocean’s ex-wife, played by Julia Roberts.
I’m not going to offer any spoilers in case you haven’t seen either version of the movie. Just suffice it to say that the specialized skill sets of the Clooney led team was much more interesting, including a Cirque du Soleil style gymnast, a pickpocket, a surveillance expert, and a banned blackjack dealer from Atlantic City. The chemistry between these 11 guys is a big part of the fun. In fact, the only complaint I have is Don Cheadle’s bizarre pseudo-Aussie accent (I think) as BasharTarr, the resident munitions expert. That comes off as unreal and a bit distracting, but it’s ultimately a minor quibble.
The fun of watching this movie comes from both the interplay between the characters (a shared quality with the earlier version) and all the twists and turns in the plot, as scripted by Ted Griffin and directed by Steven Soderbergh. No wonder it spawned two sequels, also popular with the public.
George Clooney came to Hollywood’s Master Storytellers with his directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” based on the “unauthorized autobiography” of game show producer Chuck Barris. We’re hoping to have him back as a guest when we resume production later in 2021. Meanwhile, if you are an HBO Max subscriber, be sure to check out “Ocean’s Eleven.” If you enjoy caper movies, this is one of the best.