'Hangover Part III': Take a gamble on these Las Vegas films

Hollywood producers have long cried  "Viva Las Vegas."

Over the decades, Sin City has been the backdrop for musicals such as 1941’s “Las Vegas Nights,” featuring a very young Frank Sinatra, Oscar-winning best films (1974’s “The Godfather: Part II,” 1988’s “Rain Man”), dramas (1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”) and countless comedies including 2009’s blockbuster “The Hangover” and the just-released “The Hangover Part III.

So if you are in a Vegas frame a mind, here are some solid Sin City cinema bets:

“Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) — Though far from a masterpiece, this Rat Pack caper comedy features Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey at the peak of their ring-a-ding-ding coolness. And it’s a nostalgic look at the Vegas strip of that era, before the town turned into a Disneyland of adults. The scene of the five of them walking past the Sands with their names on the marquee is priceless.

In 2001, Steven Soderberg directed the popular remake with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts that captured the hip vibe of the original. He followed it up with two sequels of uneven quality.

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“Viva Las Vegas” (1964) — The posters advertised the pairing of Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret as “That Go-Go Guy and That Bye Bye Birdie Gal in the Fun Capital of the World!” Directed by veteran George Sidney, who had done “Bye Bye Birdie” the year before with Ann-Margret, the peppy musical comedy found Presley as a poor race car driver and Ann-Margret as a swimming instructor. Besides the landmark title tune, the film featured such memorable numbers as "C’Mon Everybody."

“Elvis: That’s The Way It Is” (1970) Six years after “Viva Las Vegas,” audiences were treated to Presley’s first nondramatic movie, a concert film that chronicles Elvis’ Summer Festival in Sin City as he returned to live performing for an audiences of screaming women at the International Hotel in August 1970. The hotel was renamed the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971.

“Diamonds are Forever” (1971) This Sean Connery James Bond thriller was filmed in and around Las Vegas, including at the Hilton and the Mint.

“The Gambler” (1974) Penned by James Toback and directed by Karel Reisz (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman”), this loose adaptation based on Dostoyevsky’s “The Gambler,” revolves around an English professor (James Caan) with a gambling addition that is spiraling way out of control when he loses an enormous amount of money at a mob-run casino.

Though the film received mixed reviews, Caan was singled out for his strong performance.

“Rain Man (1988) During their road trip in the classic Buick Roadmaster convertible, selfish yuppie Charlie (Tom Cruise) takes his autistic older brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who is a savant with numbers, to Caesar’s Palace so he can use Raymond’s uncanny abilities to help him win money at the blackjack table The film made use of Caesar’s Palace as well as two other casinos that no longer exist, the Algiers and the Stardust.

The film won four Academy Awards: best film, director for Barry Levinson, screenplay for Barry Morrow and Ron Bass and actor for Hoffman.

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“Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992) — Caan is back in Vegas in writer/director Andrew Bergman’s popular romantic comedy also starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and a skydiving team of Elvis impersonators called the Flying Elvises.

“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) Leaving his comedic “Honeymoon in Vegas” behind, Cage earned a best actor Oscar for his acclaimed performance as a Hollywood screenwriter whose life and career are in shambles because of his alcoholism. He sets out to Vegas to end his life by drinking himself to death. Elisabeth Shue, who earned a best actress Oscar nomination, plays a tough prostitute with whom he becomes involved.

Directed and adapted by Mike Figgis, the film was based on the semi-autobiographical novel by James O’Brien, who committed suicide two weeks into the film’s production.

“Swingers” (1996) Though this popular indie comedy about a group of single friends who are unemployed actors takes place in Los Angeles, best buds Mike (Jon Favreau) and Trent (Vince Vaughn) take an overnight trip to Las Vegas, where they gamble at a casino. Vaughn’s father is a lucky gambler at a blackjack table, while Favreau’s grandmother plays the gambler that scores at another table. While gambling they hook up with a cocktail waitress and her friend. The exterior casino shots were of the Stardust, while interiors were filmed at the Fremont Hotel and Casino in downtown Vegas.

“The Cooler” (2003) Wayne Kramer directed and cowrote the romantic drama depicting the more low-rent side of Vegas. William H. Macy plays the title role of an unlucky guy who is indebted to a brutal downtown casino boss (Alec Baldwin in an Oscar-nominated turn). He works at the shabby, outdated casino as a cooler, a loser whose  presence at tables causes the other gamblers to have bad luck. The Golden Phoenix Reno, which had seen better days, was used for the interiors.


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