Gangster Movies: (ca. 1991) New York gangster Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel takes a brief business trip to Los Angeles. A sharp-dressing womanizer with a foul temper, Siegel doesn’t hesitate to kill or maim anyone crossing him. In L.A. the life, the movies, and most of all strong-willed Virginia Hill detain him while his family wait back home. Then a trip to a run-down gambling joint at a spot in the desert known as Las Vegas gives him his big idea.
The plot of the film follows the events in mobster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel’s life that culminated in both the founding of Las Vegas and his own death. As the plot includes Siegel’s relationship with Virginia Hill, it also shows his deteriorating relationship with his family (wife Esta and children) and associates (including Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano), and it also looks at Siegel’s fascination with becoming a celebrity. Most prominently, though, is his dream of creating something: that something which is the renown hotel and casino ‘the Flamingo’. And it is this plot, which artfully switches back and forth between Siegel’s personal and business lives, that sets the film apart. It is this blending of personal and professional which sets Bugsy apart from other gangsters by making him human. Yes, he may be a heartless killer, a faithless philanderer, remorseless criminal, hopeless dreamer, but those very characteristics are the same which make him more than the run-of-the-mill gangster. The myth dissolves as the man emerges; and the audience sympathizes with Siegel, even if they do not approve of him.
After working on this film, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening were married. They’d met several years before when she auditioned for another Beatty production. They met again when she was seriously considered for the role of Tess Trueheart in Dick Tracy (1990).
Director Trademark: [Barry Levinson] Ralph Tabakin (elevator operator) has appeared in every Levinson picture from Diner (1982) to Liberty Heights (1999).
The movie that George Raft (Joe Mantegna) is making while Siegel visits him on the set is Manpower (1941) which co-starred Edward G. Robinson. The scene being filmed where Raft gets into a bar fight and hands a broken chair to an actress (Virginia Hill (Annette Bening in Bugsy (1991)) really does appear in the actual film.
Harvey Keitel, who plays Mickey Cohen in this film, portrayed Siegel in the 1974 TV movie The Virginia Hill Story (1974) (TV).
While the film suggests that Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill first meet on the movie set, they had actually met several years earlier in real life. At the time, Hill was dating Joe Adonis (portrayed as Joey A. by Lewis Van Bergen in this film) when she and Bugsy had an affair, thus explaining the animosity Bugsy and Joey have for one another throughout the film.
The film shows Siegel watching a screen test of himself. In real life, Bugsy Siegel made many friends amongst the Hollywood elite, asked for and had a screen test. The footage no longer exists, like so many other screen tests, yet the legend of Siegel’s attempt to break into showbiz lives on.
Most of the Las Vegas scenes of the Flamingo construction were filmed near Palm Desert and La Quinta, California, where a full-sized replica of the Flamingo was built.
In the late 1970s Jean-Luc Godard became obsessed with the story of Siegel and planned to make a movie about him. He wrote a screenplay called, simply, “The Story”, and planned to cast Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton in the Siegel and Hill roles. He dropped this plan when Keaton lost interest and then turned his attention to Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) as his return to commercial filmmaking. An excerpt from his draft of the script can be found in the 1985 edition of the book “Godard on Godard.”
The idea that Bugsy Seagel dreamed up the Las Vegas Strip on his own is only partly true. The Flamingo was the third major property on the Las Vegas Strip (behind the El Rancho and Last Frontier), and it wasn’t even originally Bugsy’s idea. The idea for the Flamingo came from degenerate gambler Billy Wilkerson, who intended to model it after his Los Angeles nightclubs. Bugsy Seagel became Wilkerson’s partner and eventually took over the project. He later injected a lot of his own ideas into the project, but the original idea was not his.
James Toback wrote the screenplay with the intention of directing it himself.
James Toback was 6 years late delivering the screenplay to Warren Beatty.