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Barry Levinson
Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, Joe Mantegna, Richard C. Sarafian, Bebe Neuwirth
Writing Credits:
Dean Jennings (book, research source), James Toback

Glamour Was The Disguise.

Directed by Barry Levinson, Bugsy tells the true story of legendary New York mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. Visiting Hollywood "on business," the reckless and volatile Bugsy is drawn to Tinseltown and the glamour of the movies. Leaving his wife and kids in Scarsdale indefinitely, the womanizing Bugsy spends his time on movie lots and at Hollywood extravaganzas, contemplating his own potential stardom. But soon he falls hard for strong-willed actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), who isn't content with mistress status. A road trip to a down-trodden joint in the Nevada desert in a town called Las Vegas leads Bugsy to dream of building a world-class casino and turning the town into a moneymaker. Together Bugsy and Virginia - with backing from the mob - start building The Flamingo hotel and casino, hoping that legal gambling and five-star entertainment will entice the masses and rake in big bucks.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$45.033 million on 3471 screens.
Domestic Gross
$102.543 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 149 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 12/12/2006

Disc One
• Previews
Disc Two
• “The Road to Damascus: The Re-Invention of Bugsy Siegel” Documentary
• Two Deleted Scenes
• “Bugsy Siegel’s ‘Screen Test’”


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Bugsy: Unrated Extended Cut (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2007)

For a glimpse of how Las Vegas started to become the tourist Mecca it is today, we visit 1991’s Bugsy. The biopic examines the life and career of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (Warren Beatty), the notorious gangster. The flick joins him midlife in the early 1940s and concentrates on a few aspects of his work.

First Bugsy looks at Siegel’s attempts to bust into the criminal operations in Southern California. His experiences there demonstrate his fascination with glitz and glamour, and he also meets Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), a starlet who also dates one of Bugsy’s gangland associates. He becomes enamored with her, though she resists his charms. Thus launches what becomes a tumultuous romance as Bugsy falls for Virginia and extends his brief SoCal stay into a much longer stint.

That leads into the film’s next emphasis when Bugsy chooses to expand his operations. He visits a small tangential extension and has an epiphany when stuck in the desert. He decides to open the Flamingo, a casino resort that he hopes will make Las Vegas a major gambling destination – and a serious money-maker for him and his cohorts. Bugsy also dreams of the political ramifications that would come from the action, as he feels they could virtually control the state. The rest of the movie follows these endeavors and their impact on those involved.

Over the years, I’ve found more to dislike than to like in the work of director Barry Levinson. He tends to be patronizing and simplistic, tendencies that marred stinkers like Good Morning Vietnam and Avalon. Happily, Bugsy brings us the “good” Levinson, the one more interested in telling a rich story than battering us with moral platitudes.

Indeed, Bugsy comes surprisingly free from cautionary tales. We get hints of the lead character’s self-loathing and distress over the life he’s chosen, but virtually none of his issues result from his pursuit of crime. He worries about his personal life and rues the mess he made with his family. Rather than condescend, the movie keeps this as a subtext, a choice that makes it more effective.

Bugsy offers an unusually rich character in general. More visionary than thug, the movie portrays him as bipolar. He goes from extreme highs to deep lows without much provocation. He also displays a high level of venality, and his love of glitz and glamour make him different. This isn’t your standard mush-mouthed gangster, and the film allows him to develop in a full, natural manner.

Beatty’s terrific lead performance sure helps. I usually see Beatty as a very low-key actor who might underplay too much to take on a bigger than life personality like Bugsy, but he avoids those traps here. He really bites into the part with vigor. He’s light and lively but also tough and intimidating when necessary. There’s a little Jack Nicholson on display here, but don’t mistake Beatty for an imitator; this gem of a performance is all his own.

I like Levinson’s untraditional choice to simply throw us into the action with virtually no background. We never get flashbacks or serious exposition to tell us who Bugsy was or how he became a big shot. The movie pops up in the middle of his life and goes from there. Sure, it tosses out enough light information along the way to fill in the gaps, but it avoids any obvious “Basil the Explainer” scenes. It’s a daring approach but one that works very well.

Really, I find little to dislike about Bugsy. Barry Levinson reins in his usual mawkish tendencies to imbue the flick with energy and verve, and he manages to tell a tight story despite potential pitfalls. Add an excellent lead performance and fine supporting work to get a fully satisfying tale about an unconventional gangster.

Note that this DVD presents an extended version of Bugsy. This adds about 15 minutes to the theatrical cut’s 134 minutes. What’s different here? I’ll be damned if I know. I’d not seen the original version since 1991 so I couldn’t detect the changes. I looked around the Internet for a list of additions/alterations but couldn’t find any.

While I can’t discuss differences, I can state that the extended cut works very well. Sometimes I’ll see longer editions that feel as though they exist just to sell DVDs; these will toss in weak sequences simply so the studio can sucker in new buyers. That doesn’t become the case for Bugsy. The film flows well and never suffers from scenes that appear awkward or out of place. It’s a solid version of the film.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Bugsy appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The flick offered a perfectly acceptable transfer.

Sharpness usually seemed good. At times I thought it came across as a little soft, some of which stemmed from the period photographic style. Other slightly ill-defined segments made less sense, though these remained in the minority and most of the movie was clear and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement stayed minimal.

Source flaws were also minor. Grain was a little heavy, but otherwise the defects were insignificant. Other than the occasional speck, the flick stayed clean.

Colors were affected by the film’s period style. Bugsy went with a subdued, slightly golden tone much of the time. Within its palette, the hues usually seemed fine, though they could be a little too flat on occasion. Blacks were a bit on the inky side and never boasted great depth, while shadows tended to be a little dense. Neither issue really distracted, but both seemed somewhat off. Overall, this was a consistently decent picture; it just didn’t excel in any way.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bugsy proved surprisingly impressive. I expected a low-key affair from the soundfield but it served as notably more active than anticipated. Though atmosphere dominated the spectrum, it did so in a very involving manner. The various settings came across as full and broad as they kept us in the action. Elements flowed quite smoothly across the channels.

Music presented strong stereo imaging, and the surrounds added a lot to the package. A few louder sequences like those with planes or trains brought out the back speakers best, and musical pieces also gave us good punch as well. This was a nicely engaging soundfield.

Audio quality also proved satisfying. Speech was consistently natural and crisp, with no edginess or other issues. Music seemed lively and bright, while effects showed good accuracy and range. The soundtrack worked nicely and filled out the film well.

Most of this set’s extras reside on its second disc, as DVD One only includes some Previews. We find ads for The Da Vinci Code, Click, Edison Force and “Dynamic Duos” on TV DVD.

Over on Disc Two, the prime attraction comes from a documentary called The Road to Damascus: The Re-Invention of Bugsy Siegel. This 90-minute and 30-second program presents the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from director Barry Levinson, screenwriter James Toback, film critic Richard Schickel, actors Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Elliott Gould, production designer Dennis Gassner, costume designer Albert Wolsky, and cinematographer Allen Daviau. We get notes on the story’s path to the screen and its development, the choice of Levinson as director and his style during the production, cast, characters and performances, specifics of some scenes and dialogue, sets, locations, and related problems, costume design, style and cinematography, the score, and reactions to the film.

Most of the information comes from a roundtable chat among Beatty, Levinson and Toback. They interact in a friendly and charming manner; they come across as three old friends, and their rapport makes his a lively and fun piece. They offer plenty of amusing stories, many of which revolve around Beatty’s romance with Bening. Really, there are so many fun tales that it’s hard to narrow down the biggest gems, though I also very much enjoy the story of Kingsley’s audition.

The other participants pop up less frequently and come from separate interviews. Their material doesn’t live up to the tone and charm of the Levinson/Beatty/Toback stuff, but those elements help flesh out the program. All of this material combines to make “Damascus” a rich and informative piece.

Two Deleted Scenes come next. We find “Ben and the Countess” (0:31) and “Ben and Virginia” (0:53). The first simply shows the pair as they dance, while the second gives us more of the pair in the aftermath of a violent incident. Neither seems even remotely memorable.

Finally, we find Bugsy Siegel’s “Screen Test”. A vanity project glimpses in the film, this three-minute and six-second clip shows us Beatty as Bugsy. This is his “audition film” from when the gangster tried to become an actor. It’s a fun little extra.

Though I don’t expect much from Barry Levinson, I think Bugsy gives us a strong piece of work. The flick tells a fascinating story in a full, involving manner and boasts a simply terrific performance from Warren Beatty. The DVD offers decent picture, surprisingly good audio, and extras highlighted by a strong documentary. This turns out to be a solid movie and DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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