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White Star presents
Rat Pack's Las Vegas (2000)

"Sammy Davis, on stage, by himself, was the greatest, most volatile, most talented entertainer we have ever had, and Sinatra would tell you that."
- Ed Walters, casino pit boss

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 04, 2002

Stars: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford
Other Stars: Milton Berle, Ava Gardner, Lucky Luciano, Jimmy Durante, John F. Kennedy, Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine
Director: Rhys Thomas

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:43m:13s
Release Date: January 29, 2002
UPC: 032031302594
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D D-CC- D-

DVD Review

Did you ever wonder what it really must have been like to hang on the Vegas Strip with Frank and Dino and Sammy? Or maybe you're just a fan of their music, and want to hear and see them strutting their stuff? If so, stay away from this DVD, a shallow, disappointing look at the Rat Pack in their place and time.

Originally produced for the Travel Channel, this is little more than the briefest snippets of archival footage strung together with new interviews with people that, literally, Sinatra might have bumped into in the lobby of the Sands Hotel and Casino. There are a wealth of people who knew these guys well, who documented them in their time, or who bring particular insight to the goings-on in early '60s Vegas, but none of them are here. Instead, among the principal interviewees are an old-time publicist, a casino pit boss who worked at the Sands back in the day, and a casino owner. And getting the most face time are a trio of celebrity impersonators: one for Frank (Nicholas Albert), one for Dino (Steven Edward), and one for Sammy (named, ridiculously enough, Johnny Davis Jr.). Albert in particular is leaned on to tell stories about his idol; it's sort of like producing a documentary about the Nixon Administration, and having the principal talking head be Rich Little.

Even worse, the camera crew travels around with this trio as they greet guests at the casino, doing their act, and Albert is called upon to re-enact some incidents in Sinatra's life described in other interviews. (An opening screen helpfully informs us that these are dramatic re-creations, to keep you from confusing the impostor from the genuine article. Unless you're close to blind, there's no danger of this.) The principal thing missing is any member of the Rat Pack performing. We see them onstage only briefly, cutting up, but there's hardly a moment of singing by any of them. (We don't even get to see the impersonators sing.)

There is a small amount of information, the basic facts of the narrative: Sinatra's rough period in the late 1950s, his torrid relationship with Ava Gardner, his comeback with From Here to Eternity, and his ownership stake in the Sands. But it's material that's been gone over and over, and there's nothing new here. There's a lot of Sinatra worship, too, including tales of Sinatra as a crusading civil rights activist (insisting that Sammy be served at the hotel restaurant), Sinatra as classy costume designer (having the casino dealers dress in tuxedos was his idea), even Sinatra as interior decorator (bringing baccarat to Vegas, and helping the casino emulate Monte Carlo). Generally, you can tell where someone stands on the Sinatra-as-Christ scale by how they refer to him: to the godless, he's Frank. To the faithful, he's Mr. Sinatra.

A good amount of attention is lavished on Sinatra's relationship with JFK—it's why Peter Lawford, Kennedy's brother-in-law, "set dressing with a British accent," was a member of the Rat Pack—and much is made of Sinatra procuring women for Kennedy. But in an unintentionally apt metaphor for the entire undertaking, the bit of footage of Presidential candidate Kennedy at a Rat Pack show in early 1960 is horribly out of focus, making it impossible to make out anybody's face.

The lethal narration doesn't help the cause ("To Frank Sinatra, the ringing colors of dust were like his own wake-up call"), though this documentary is sometimes an inadvertent meditation on changes in Vegas. Prominently featured is casino owner Sheldon G. Adelson, who bought the casino that the Rat Pack made famous: "When I took over the Sands, I felt that I was taking over a piece of nostalgia, a piece of Americana," and then he promptly blew it up, and erected the Venetian in its place. One of the last details mentioned is that Madame Tussaud's in Vegas has a Rat Pack Room, and this documentary is about as much fun as hanging out with the wax statues.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Much of this is composed of archival footage, which varies in quality; the newer stuff shot is pedestrian, and the transfer to DVD is adequate.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: There's not much to listen to, but the buzz of casinos creeps in to some of the new interview footage, and the bass seems to be turned up a little high for the anonymous narrator. Ring a ding ding elsewhere.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Obviously, a huge missed opportunity, as the only thing here are ten chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Watching Rat Pack's Las Vegas is like spending forty-five minutes with a fan club president gushing over an idol—it's all about being on the outside looking in. If it's the Rat Pack you're looking for, watch the original Ocean's 11, or something, or rent Bugsy for a story about the transformation of Vegas, or pop an old Sinatra disc into the CD player. Steer clear of this ersatz bit of nostalgia.


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