Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It's like a morality car wash.
~~Sam "Ace" Rothstein
I finished my Words from the Myths book, and have moved on to my American Mafia book. While the book only goes up to the 1950's, last night's viewing pleasure was "Casino," the 1995 Martin Scorsese film set in Las Vegas in the 70's.
I'd forgotten what a fun movie this is! Well, I suppose "fun" might not be the appropriate word, because it's one of Scorsese's more violent films, but it's a fun one to watch.
I won't go into plot details, because it gets fairly convoluted, with the Family in Kansas City skimming some of the action in Vegas, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) sent out to help his old friend Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro), who is a master at picking winners in sporting events, various players trying to get their own little piece of the action...fairly typical stuff, just a little too much to go into.
While I had no idea that "Goodfellas" was based on a true story and real people, this one I knew about. After going to Vegas the first time, I was very interested in the history of the place and picked up a few books about it. So as a very amateur Vegas historian, I had already read about Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro. (The De Niro and Pesci characters, respectively.) It chronicles the story of Rosenthal'sriseto fame and glory in 70's Vegas, and how everything eventually falls apart. It's a tale of good times, living the high life, and how illegal activity including drugs and murder will eventually catch up to you. I'll write a bit about the real people first.
Rosenthal was apparently a pretty decent guy as far as mobsters go, but the "enforcer" was Spilotro. When things began to get out of hand and the government started closing in, the Chicago (where Rosenthal and Spilotro were based) Family had had enough, and had Tony the Ant and his brother taken out. (And talk about close to home...their bodies were found in a cornfield in Enos, Indiana, maybe an hour and a half from here.) Rosenthal's downturn was based on several factors shown in the movie, including his wife, the former prostitute and hustler, Ginger (played by Sharon Stone).
Rothstein runs the fictitious Tangiers Casino in the movie, but in real life, Rosenthal ran the Stardust, the Fremont, and the Hacienda. (Of the three, only the Fremont survives, in downtown Vegas.) Rothstein is depicted as having a TV talk show live from the Tangiers, and Rosenthal really did the same thing: "The Frank Rosenthal Show." You can't make this kind of stuff up, folks! While Tony the Ant met an untimely and gruesome demise, Rosenthal is alive and well. He may have been "black booked" from Vegas casinos, but he's living in Miami Beach and running a website where he makes sporting events picks.
As for the movie, De Niro gives another great performance (does he ever NOT?). He comes across as a not-so-bad guy, and it's obvious that at first he is smitten with Ginger and very much in love with her. (I remember my acquaintance who had a minor role in the movie saying that De Niro is a very nice guy, surprisingly shy, and great to work with. I just thought that was kind of interesting, especially the shy part. Who would guess?) Ginger doesn't reciprocate the feeling--once a hustler, always a hustler. She's in it for the money, and remains in love with her pimp boyfriend, Lester (James Woods does a great job as the sleazeball). I'm not a fan of Sharon Stone, but her portrayal of the gold-digging Ginger, who rips off Ace and becomes increasingly dependent on drugs and alcohol is dead-on, and won her an Oscar nomination. And Joe Pesci plays another psychopath in Nicky, a role that he plays so well. (A couple of scenes to watch for: the pen scene, and the vise scene.) If I were him, I'd start to wonder how I can play a nutjob with such accuracy!
There are some great appearances by a few Las Vegas legends, including Don Rickles and Alan King.
"Casino" was filmed at the Riviera, which was built in 1955 and is still operating on the Vegas Strip.
Rothstein's lawyer in the film is played by Oscar Goodman, a real life lawyer in Vegas, and their current mayor.
"Lefty" Rosenthal got his name because in court once, he pleaded the Fifth over 30 times, including to the question of if he was left-handed. Tony "the Ant" got his name because some law enforcement official called him "that little pissant." Find out your Mafia nickname here (warning: you'll encounter the F-word). Mine is Beth "Extra Arm" R.
"Casino"--the Vegas that was, baby, and a fun three hours!
At the end of the movie, Ace Rothstein says, "The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checkin' into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today,it's all gone. You get a whale [a high roller] show up with four million in a suitcase, and some twenty-five-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his Social Security Number. After the Teamsters got knocked out of the box, the corporations tore down practically every one of the old casinos. And where did the money come from to rebuild the pyramids? Junk bonds. But in the end, I wound up right back where I started. I could still pick winners, and I could still make money for all kinds of people back home. And why mess up a good thing?"