Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino (2003)


(director/writer/editor/producer: Joseph F. Alexandre; cinematographer: Matt Ehling; cast: Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Tony Spilotro, Alan Dorfman; Runtime: 34; MPAA Rating: “13”; Sub Rosa Studios/JFA Films; 2000)

If you’re interested in the real life counterparts to the Nicholas Pileggi novel “Casino,” then this documentary will hit the spot.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This short documentary now available on DVD about real Chicago gangsters involved with the casinos in Las Vegas plays as a primer for Martin Scorsese’s film Casino, though its timing is not very good because I doubt if there’s still much interest in the mildly received 1995 film. But if you’re interested in the real life counterparts to the Nicholas Pileggi novel “Casino,” then this documentary will hit the spot. “The Real Casino” gives you insights to the film’s main characters such as Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (the Robert DeNiro character), Tony Spilotro (the Joe Pesci character), Alan Dorfman (the Alan King Character), and several of their pals and relatives who were privy to the way Chicago’s “Outfit” operated and gained favor in Las Vegas. Joseph F. Alexandre’s coup is getting access to these underworld types and getting them on film through shadowy interviews and staged reenactments. We find out that Lefty was a good man with figures and took over running a casino for the mob as an outsider, but the shadowy gangster interviewed said he couldn’t stand him because he was so arrogant. Tony is viewed as a hot-tempered killer with a real mean streak, but who would not display that violence in public as was shown in the film. Dorf was revealed to be a Jimmy Hoffa protege and a good guy with mob connections, who was murdered because the mob didn’t want to take a chance he would talk when he was indicted. The gangsters are further revealed as extortionists charging a “street tax” to legitimate businesses on Chicago’s North Side. If not paid they were threatened with being physically harmed, with the local politicians and the police and judges in on the scam.

One of the lady family members of the Chicago mobsters is not interested in seeing Casino and thinks it catches a large segment of the public’s fancy only because they think gangsters are glamorous and are fascinated by violence. Since what she said is basically what I think, I found neither Casino nor this documentary of any particular interest. Casino was a technically impressive film but its story was rather thin, while this documentary covers ground that I don’t give a hoot about and it certainly doesn’t shock me to find out these gangster types are not really nice guys. But as an exploitation film providing some kind of historical record of their gangster activities, I can accept its place in movie lore. It’s the kind of feature seen on PBS, where indeed it once played. It was first seen as a seven minute piece on John Pierson¬ís Split Screen show on both The Independent Film Channel and Bravo, one that was shot for about $3500.


REVIEWED ON 12/25/2003 GRADE: C+