Bugsy (1991) is a feature film about gangster Bugsy Siegel. Though he hated being called "Bugsy," it's the name by which most people know him. The movie explores his role in transforming a desert into the Las Vegas Strip, and how his vision ultimately creates something bigger than imagined.
Directed by Barry Levinson and written by James Toback, Bugsy has resonance that goes beyond Nevada ties, though ultimately it is more romantic than factual. All but the end credits were shot outside of Nevada, partially because strict federal regulations protecting desert tortoises made it too difficult to use the Nevada desert as a building site for the Strip as it appeared in the 1940s. The re-creation of the original Flamingo Hotel near San Diego was one of the film's ten Oscar nominations that resulted in a statue.
Harvey Keitel as Mickey Cohen and Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky earned supporting Oscar nominations, while Joe Mantegna and Elliott Gould had good turns: the former as actor George Raft and the latter as a dimwit stool pigeon. Warren Beatty earned a best actor nomination in a twitchy performance that shows Bugsy's hair-trigger temper, but emphasizes his romantic streak, making him rather sweet at times—a portrait contrary to most accounts.
Dates, facts, and realistic time lines are better found in television documentaries, but the truth found in Bugsy is that Las Vegas and Nevada needed audacious risk takers in order to evolve. While the extent of his role in developing Las Vegas is arguable, Siegel was part of the process and his name remains linked with Nevada in history books and on screen.
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