A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the whole movie amounts to a glorification of thievery. Not one character questions whether it's morally right to pull off the big casino robbery, just whether they can get away with it. In accord with the studio censorship codes of yesteryear, though, crime does not pay in the end (except a modest handout to an innocent, struggling widow). The Las Vegas "fun city" ambiance of gambling and high times is robustly present, with much drinking, smoking, and other grownup pursuits idealized. Note that the casinos are shown behaving legally and ethically, even forbidding a prominent celebrity (comic Red Skelton, portraying himself) from exceeding his betting limit. That little vignette is as close as it comes to a Gamblers Anonymous PSA. Households who disapprove of gambling altogether still won't be happy. Neither will those sensitive to the male characters' occasional denigration of women and a few racial gags made at Sammy Davis Jr.'s expense.
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What's the story?
Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra), is a WWII hero and lifelong rogue, gambler, and thrill seeker. He rounds up ten old friends from his battalion to use their wartime skills and nerve in the biggest gamble of all: a New Year's Eve heist in Las Vegas. With several of the men deployed at casinos on the Strip, the idea is to simultaneously rob every major gambling house during a midnight blackout caused by sabotage. Sam (Dean Martin) doesn't think it will work, but joins out of loyalty. Others in the gang are desperate for the money. One who isn't is Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford), born into immense wealth. He helped hatch the scheme to prove he could earn a fortune on his own initiative. His widowed mother is set to marry a gangster (Cesar Romero), and after the heist comes off, it's this formidable stepfather-to-be who turns up the heat, looking for the missing millions for the gambling syndicates.
Is it any good?
The 1960 Ocean's 11 comes off today as a dialogue-heavy escapade that will probably give younger viewers a guess-you-had-to-be-there feeling. It boasts an immortal ensemble cast of some of America's biggest stars and recording artists, and while the performers are charming, the real fun all happened in Las Vegas in 1960. There's lots of easygoing banter, the heist itself generates little tension, and Ol' Blue Eyes, Dino, and Sammy are off-screen a lot while the supporting cast fills in.
The already-lengthy plot seems poised for a couple more twists, but an unexpected complication suddenly and sharply wraps it up. Ocean's 11 isn't sloppy or slapdash -- it just feels like watching the legendary group of good buddies share a joke you aren't quite in on yourself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of Ocean's Eleven in its time. Do kids today find the actor-entertainers all that charming? Are their swaggering ways and attitudes toward women still "cool," or backwards and embarrassing? You can also discuss the enduring appeal of caper movies. Consider the ironic twist ending and Hollywood's old studio-censorship rule that dictated outlaws could never be allowed to succeed in the end (the George ClooneyOcean's Eleven remake and sequels didn't have this problem). Why do you think clever lawbreaking and heists became especially popular on movie screens in the rebellious 1960s?