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Bugsy (1991)

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (he hated the nickname and was known to physically assault anyone unwise enough to use it in his presence) was a renaissance mobster back in the Forties – a magnetic, quixotic individual from Williamsburgh, Brooklyn with two wild dreams – to kill Mussolini and open a lavish hotel in Vegas.

He wore elegant clothes, screwed the sexiest women – notably starlet Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) – and partied with movie greats like his childhood pal George Raft (Joe Mantegna).

From the time Bugsy leaves his wife and two daughters home in Scarsdale and heads for California on the Super Chief to run the West Coast rackets for his partners Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) and Lucky Luciano (the late rock impresario Bill Graham in a striking turn), it is clear he is destined to become a legend.

Siegel loved Hollywood. He even took directing lessons and shot a screen test. Immersed in mud-packs, cucumber slices on the eyes, and hairnets, he was vain, violent, arrogant, irrational, intemperate, and sometimes quite mad.

But a dream distracted him. He wanted to build a gambling palace – the Flamingo – in the desert of Las Vegas. Bugsy Siegel had a vision.

Warren Beatty gives his best performance in years – he’s charming, unpredictable, reckless, and romantic. And Bening, full of passion and wiseguy wisecracks, plays Virginia with such energy and spunk the chemistry is apparent and juicy. Their love scenes don’t look like acting.

The fact that you like them both and dread the inevitable finale, where Bugsy keeps his date with a machine gun, is the film’s greatest triumph.

Stylistically, Bugsy is a remarkable effort, with a continuous sense of gliding motion, photographed slickly through rain and smoke and steam, underscored by Jo Stafford, Johnny Mercer, and Peggy Lee records.

The music, clothes, and cinematography are elegant and meticulously breathless, and the historical facts that lead to Bugsy’s downfall (selling 400% of the Flamingo stock to the Mafia and opening on Christmas Day in the middle of a blinding rainstorm and a power failure) are relayed while the screenplay cracks and pops.

This is the best gangster picture since The Godfather (1972).

Bugsy Siegel
Warren Beatty
Virginia Hill
Annette Bening
Mickey Cohen
Harvey Keitel
Meyer Lansky
Ben Kingsley
Harry Greenberg
Elliott Gould
Joe Mantegna
Jack Dragna
Richard Sarafian
Countess di Frasso
Bebe Neuwirth
Count di Frasso
Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi
Esta Siegel
Wendy Phillips
Millicent Siegel
Stefanie Mason
Barbara Siegel
Kimberly McCullough
Del Webb
Andy Romano
Robert Beltran
Charlie Luciano
Bill Graham

Barry Levinson