If you were to rank all of Martin Scorsese's movies, no matter what criteria you used, Casino would probably be somewhere in the middle. Most people who love it don't love it more than, say, GoodFellas, and plenty of people don't love it at all. In terms of box office, it's the director's 10th highest grossing film out of more than two dozen features. It earned just one Oscar nomination (for Sharon Stone), but several other Scorsese movies have received zero. Rotten Tomatoes scores for Scorsese films range from 45 to 100 percent; Casino sits at 80 percent. Yet it has a strong following.
Among IMDb users, only four Scorsese films rank above it. And let's be honest: many filmmakers would be lucky if their best work were as good as one of Scorsese's "mediocre" films. Here's an overflowing stack of information about the violent, funny, Vegas-scented Casino. Place your bets!
1. IT ONLY EXISTS BECAUSE THE REAL GUY IT'S BASED ON WAS A BIG DE NIRO FAN.
The main character, Sam "Ace" Rothstein, is based on Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who was retired and living in Florida when writer Nicholas Pileggi came around wanting to write a book about his career. Rosenthal didn't actively oppose the project, but he had no interest in helping, either—until he found out that Martin Scorsese planned to make Pileggi's eventual book into a movie, and that Robert De Niro would probably be the star. Then he perked up, asking Pileggi (who also wrote GoodFellas) if he could arrange a meeting with De Niro. Next thing Pileggi knew, formerly reticent associates of Rosenthal's were coming out of the woodwork, offering their cooperation.
2. THE OPENING TITLES WERE DESIGNED BY THE LEGENDARY SAUL BASS.
Saul Bass is certainly the most famous (and possibly the only) well-known designer of opening credit sequences, with more than 50 to his name. If there was a movie in the '50s or '60s with distinctive opening titles, odds are good that it was Bass' work, often in conjunction with his wife, Elaine. (Among them: Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, West Side Story, Spartacus, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.) Bass did the titles for Scorsese's GoodFellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, which turned out to be the final film of his career. He died five months after the film opened, at the age of 75.
3. SCORSESE CANCELED SHARON STONE'S AUDITION. TWICE. THEN STALKED HER.
In the Blu-ray commentary, Stone relates the story of how she came to be in the film. She says her first two auditions for Scorsese ended up being canceled for various mundane reasons—Scorsese was held up by another meeting, that sort of thing—and Stone's paranoia convinced her that he was blowing her off. When the director's people contacted her to try it a third time, she turned them down and went out to dinner with a friend instead. Scorsese tracked her down and showed up at the restaurant where she was dining to make a personal appeal.
4. IT WAS SHOT IN A REAL, OPERATING CASINO.
For Scorsese, it wouldn't do to build a fake casino on a studio lot. Casino had to be shot in a real casino. The thing about casinos, though, is that they never close. So Scorsese made an arrangement with Las Vegas' Riviera to film there for six weeks, four nights a week (presumably Monday through Thursday), from midnight to 10 a.m., when the casino was less busy. The film shoot occupied only a corner of the facility, but real gameplay was happening on the sides and in the background. For extra authenticity (and to spare the hassle of teaching actors how to do it), Scorsese used real dealers and pit bosses where possible.
5. JOE PESCI LOOKED SO MUCH LIKE THE REAL GUY THAT SOME CASINO PIT BOSSES DID DOUBLE-TAKES.
Pesci bore some natural resemblance to Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the violent psychopath who busted heads for Rosenthal, and upon whom his character—Nicky Santoro—was based. In makeup, he looked even more like Spilotro—so much so that, according to Pileggi, when Pesci entered the casino where the movie was being shot, some pit bosses who'd had personal dealings with Spilotro "almost fainted."
6. ACCORDING TO SCORSESE, THE FILM HAS "NO PLOT AT ALL."
"There's no plot at all," Scorsese said in an interview included on the Blu-ray. "It's three hours, no plot. So you know this going in. There's a lot of action, a lot of story, but no plot."
7. DE NIRO BASED SOME OF ACE'S STYLE—ESPECIALLY HIS GLASSES—ON LEW WASSERMAN.
And who was Lew Wasserman? A talent agent-turned-studio mogul whose six-decade showbiz career made him a legend—a household name in Hollywood, largely unknown everywhere else. Robert De Niro, always passionate when it came to researching his roles, discovered that Lefty Rosenthal had been a clotheshorse, and he worked with costume designer Rita Ryack to create Ace Rothstein's "look," right down to his watches and jewelry. (Ace wears about 50 different outfits in the movie.) Wasserman had been the head of Universal Pictures for decades, and while he didn't have much in common with Rosenthal otherwise, De Niro thought his huge, owlish eyeglasses would serve the character well, besides being a little homage to the studio boss.
8. THE MOVIE HAPPENED BECAUSE SCORSESE OPTED OUT OF MAKING CLOCKERS.
One little-remembered detail about Casino is that it came about because Scorsese had an opening in his schedule. And that opening existed because he'd changed his mind about directing the film adaptation of Richard Price's novel Clockers, handing it over to Spike Lee instead (Scorsese produced). The Scorsese version of Clockers would have been interesting, but it would have meant no Casino.
9. JOE PESCI (RE)BROKE A RIB DURING FILMING.
During his character's final scene, when he's being beaten with a baseball bat, Pesci suffered a broken rib. It was the same rib that had been broken 15 years earlier by Robert De Niro, during the filming of Raging Bull. The lesson: If you're going to keep being in movies where your character gets beaten up, choose directors and co-stars who aren't as intense as Scorsese and De Niro.
10. THE BOOK IT'S BASED ON ALMOST DIDN'T COME OUT UNTIL AFTER THE MOVIE.
Nicholas Pileggi intended to go the usual route of writing the book first, then concentrating on the film adaptation. But Scorsese convinced him to do both simultaneously, which really meant focusing on the screenplay first, book second. The two worked on the script together, after which Pileggi raced to finish the book so that it could come out before the movie was released. The book ended up hitting shelves just six weeks before the film came out, almost certainly cutting into sales and probably confusing some readers: the book, unlike the movie, uses the characters' real names.
11. IT MADE THE STUDIO'S LAWYERS NERVOUS.
You're always in dangerous waters making a movie about the mafia, even when most of the facts are a matter of public record. According to Scorsese, Universal's lawyers suggested changing the characters' names (hence Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal becomes Sam "Ace" Rothstein), and even avoiding specific mention of Chicago being the Las Vegas mobsters' headquarters: they say "back home" instead, and the word "Chicago" never appears in the screenplay. Another legal butt-covering strategy: having the onscreen titles say the movie was "adapted from a true story" rather than "based on a true story." You get a lot more creative license with "adapted from" than you do with "based on." (Still, Scorsese said "pretty much everything" in the movie is true.)
12. WE MAY NEVER KNOW WHAT THE REAL ACE ACTUALLY THOUGHT OF THE MOVIE.
Lefty Rosenthal, who died in 2008, said he only ever saw the movie once. If that's true, it was the screening of a rough cut that was also attended by Pileggi. Pileggi sat with Rosenthal—they were the only ones in the screening room—and said Rosenthal's reaction was positive. But near the end of his life, when an interviewer mentioned that, "You only saw Casino once—and you don't like the movie," Rosenthal replied that "It lacked the detail of what I did. There are scenes where the Rosenthal character repeated the same thing twice. I would only tell you to do something one time—that's all I needed. And there was that scene that still angers me when I think of it—I never juggled on The Frank Rosenthal Show. I resent that scene. It makes me look foolish. And I only did that TV show [at] the behest of the chairman of the board of the Stardust so that the public would realize I was a decent guy and not a mobster as portrayed by the media covering us at the time.” Did Rosenthal change his mind over time? Did Pileggi misinterpret his initial reaction? We'll never know.
DVD/Blu-ray features and commentary