Casino Turns 25

The Movie Casino

On November 22, 1995, the Martin Scorsese movie Casino opened. And the world still can not get enough of it.  Based on writer Nicholas Pileggi’s book by the same name and starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, and probably Don Rickles best movie performance ever!

I’m not forgetting James Woods performance as the scumbag pimp, druggie, and asshole lover to Sharon Stone’s character. Actually, can we just agree that the main cast rocked! Ok?

Being a big fan of that movie, it was one of the very first DVD’s I ever bought. Never imagine that a few years later I would not only get to move to Las Vegas but get to sit nose to nose (sort of) and interview one of the real-life characters from that movie, Frank Cullotta!  That podcast still remains one of the most popular podcasts we ever recorded. Podcast 40 – The Frank Cullotta Interview

Frank also gave tours showing off some of the important locations used in the movie.  Complete with narration from the man that knew the sites very well.  Why not? He was there when the real scenes happened and he helped recreate them in the movie!   He would add a few other stops along the way that may not have made it in the movie, but that he may have a little recollection of them actually happening in real life!

I can say that a tour of Las Vegas with narration from an ex-mobster can really give you a new view of Las Vegas and its landmarks. Not to mention making you want to stop and wonder when you see a piece of vacant land where you really don’t think there should be an empty plot of land.  Because maybe it really isn’t “empty”?

Many people that I have talked to from that era (and some who had a role as an extra) said the movie captured the “essence of Las Vegas and the Mob” very well. Especially the smugness of the Mobsters. It was nice to know they were able to recreate most of the movie scenes right here in Las Vegas, using a lot of the actual dealers and casino workers who were still working, twenty years after the real story actually happened.

The Riviera Casino

The Riviera Casino was used as a stand-in for the Stardust


The Vegas Scenery

The movie was made in 1995 and the Mirage was already five years old. So Las Vegas was already into its big “Bulldoze and Build Bigger” mode.   Thankfully they were able to find locations that still reflected the vibe and the architecture of the 1970s.  I think that one of the reasons the movie was able to be such a long-lasting success was its feel of realism.  Besides some great acting, it was the visuals that enhanced the feel and the emotions of the movie.  It looked, felt, and sounded like what we are told Las Vegas was like in that era.

Although the movie focused on what was really the Stardust Casino, they used the interior of the Riviera for the casino shots.  Many people complained that the Riv was “dated” and not modern enough for them. But you had people like myself who loved the old girl for that very reason.  The Riviera was probably the best representation of what we call “Old Vegas”.  And it worked well for the movie.

In a recent Facebook post, UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives Talked about a collection of photos and notes they have from the lead location scout on the movie, Maggie Mancuso.

The link included goes to their website and you can read about the collection and the issues they had as well as some of the issues the scout had in finding the right locations. Noting that it would probably be impossible to replicate such authenticity in the Las Vegas of today. Mainly because we have demolished so much of our past. As well as the reality of how our skyline looks now compared to twenty-five years ago.

This past Sunday, November 22, 2020, marked the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s classic film “Casino.” To achieve the look of Las Vegas in the 1970s, Scorsese had a top-notch art director and a talented location scout who searched for the perfect spots around Las Vegas in 1994 that still had that vintage look. We are fortunate to have the scouting files of Maggie Mancuso (talented actress and singer in her own right), which provide a fascinating time capsule of the built environment of Las Vegas as it looked in the early 1990s. These photos are available to view in Special Collections and Archives as the Maggie Mancuso Collection on Martin Scorsese’s Casino (MS-00504). To learn more about the Mancuso Collection and how these snapshots became a permanent record of the Las Vegas landscape check out this paper from artist Catherine Borg who was one of our Eadington Fellows in 2015. “Scouted: An Inadvertent Archive from the Search for a Cinematic Vegas”  https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/occ_papers/

Looking at the photos can give some of us flashbacks. And for that, you have to smile, maybe even laugh a little looking at them. Not only for the decor but for the technology. You need to remember that there was a time when cameras were not instant or electronic. That you need to actually have the images printed to look at them. No photoshop in 1995!

Twenty Five Years??  Wow….


What are your thoughts or memories of the movie?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks!

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