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Category:    Home > Reviews > Gangster > Drama > Bugsy Unrated Extended Cut (DVD-Video)

Bugsy Unrated Extended Cut (DVD-Video)


Picture: B-    Sound: B-    Extras: B-    Film: B+



Since winning the 1981 Best Director Oscar for his Reds (1981, reviewed elsewhere on this site), it's been mostly all downhill for Warren Beatty.  His post-Reds resume is often downright embarrassing with such turkeys as Ishtar, Dick Tracy, Love Affair, Bulworth and Town & Country.  However, the one bright spot in Beatty's career during the last 25 years is 1991's Bugsy, a compelling character study of the Jewish-American gangster whose entrepreneurial idea helped transform a desert ghost town called Las Vegas into the mecca it is today.


Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, but winning only two (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design), Bugsy is a first-rate production from top to bottom, but is probably best remembered for being the film where legendary Hollywood lothario and confirmed bachelor Beatty met and fell in love with his soon-to-be wife and mother of his children, Annette Bening. 


Beatty has never been more electrifying on screen than he is as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a volatile, charismatic gangster suffering some sort of manic psychosis who, apparently, shared some of the same vain, impractical and womanizing ways as the actor playing him.


Siegel was a racketeer who was part of the criminal syndicate headed by Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky (played here by Ben Kingsley).  The notorious, though less-polished Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) also became a close associate of Siegel's during his years in Los Angeles.  


The real Siegel probably would have liked everything about this highly stylized movie aside from its title.  He absolutely detested the nickname "Bugsy" and anybody who called him that to his face risked either a bad beating or death.  But the nickname stuck because everyone thought Siegel was, as his people would say, meshuggah.


As written by James Toback and directed by Barry Levinson, this gorgeously produced film focuses on Siegel's later years in 1940s Hollywood, where he became obsessively smitten with actress Virginia Hill (Bening) and cajoled his mob partners into financing his dream of building a gambling casino/resort called the Flamingo (which was Siegel's nickname for Hill) in the middle of the Nevada desert.


Bugsy is said to be "highly fictionalized," and I don't know enough about the real Siegel to know how much of the film is true and how much is fiction, but Toback and Levinson paint a fascinating portrait of him as a walking dichotomy.  On one hand, he's a murderous thug prone to violence and volcanic outbursts of temper, but on the other hand, practices improving his elocution, and is patriotic enough to devise a cockamamie plan to assassinate Mussolini by himself.  And despite doing his fair share of maiming, killing and humiliating, his favorite motto is "Everybody deserves a fresh start once in a while."  A lot of dark humor comes from such contradictions and violent mood swings.


The film also depicts him as a visionary, who was single-handedly responsible for planting the seeds for what is now Las Vegas, one of the mob's all-time biggest sources of income.  But it would prove to be a posthumous triumph for Siegel.  The only thing that keeps getting in the way of his accomplishment is the fact that that he was a career criminal and killer.  But contradiction and obsession are what the film and the character are all about.


Bugsy only falters at the climax, becoming too romanticized as it pushes too hard to convince us that Hill really did love Siegel, when her actions clearly contributed to his demise.


Sony's two-disc extended cut of Bugsy runs 149 minutes with 15 minutes of footage added back into the film.  Especially effective is a sequence deleted from the theatrical cut where Siegel comes close to committing suicide after murdering an old friend turned stool pigeon (Elliott Gould).  The filmmakers felt the near suicide would make Siegel too sympathetic, but the scene nicely demonstrates the character's impulsiveness.


The extended cut is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with English 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. The picture is decent for the format, while the sound was originally theatrical Dolby SR; their advanced analog Spectral Recording system that was the hottest thing before digital broke out. It makes for a good master to remix from, which is what happened here for the most part.  In addition to the longer cut on disc one, the special features on the second disc include two other deleted scenes and an all-new 90-plus minute documentary featuring Beatty, Toback and Levinson sitting around a table discussing all aspects of the film.



- Chuck O'Leary


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