Fashioning a Razzle-Dazzle Vegas Identity in Cinema

What did Vegas wear during the razzle-dazzle decade of the 1970s? Do the films shot here offer an authentic visual archive or a stylized concoction of real and unreal? We’ll look at two blockbusters shot at our dearly departed Riviera, Diamonds Are Forever and Casino.

Diamonds Are Forever

Although Diamonds is considered one of the weaker entries from the super-spy series with a heavy dose of camp, adolescent double entendres, continuity snafus and an unfortunate Bond Girl pick, pity the fool who underestimates the entrance of his majesty—Bond, James Bond—onto the Las Vegas stage.

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In this screenshot from the 1971 movie, Agent 007 tolerates Plenty O’Toole who is smugly sporting a classic and authentic Vegas look known in the business as “dressed to spill.” I suspect that the background folks wore clothes from their personal closets. If I’m wrong about this, and the dueling stripes at left are intentional, well, then, I’m in love.

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Meet Shady Tree and His Acorns, the final frontier in overt parodies of the mid-century Vegas lounge act. I don’t blame the Acorns—it was probably a painless and good-paying gig—but I’ll bet that our real Vegas showgirls would vote these two off the island.

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The distraction in this shot is an apparent attempt to resurrect the pink micro-tie trend, and we support Agent 007 in this noblest of missions. Could this be the one and only instance of 007 in pink?

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d In this larger-than life- scene, a resplendent elephant dressed in a dramatic diamante headdress plays the slots on the Riviera’s casino floor. Although only seen for a few seconds, her quick wit, head-turning good looks and Lido de Paris-style costume precisely represent a certain Vegas entertainment genre of the early ’70s.

Casino

Casino features the usual suspects for a vintage Vegas narrative—mobsters, money, greed and gambling. The film is set during the 1970s and early ’80s and is basically a story about the good old noncorporate days of glorious excess in Las Vegas. The costume budget for this film was generous at a reported $1 million. Star Robert De Niro endured 70 costume changes and Sharon Stone, his female lead, changed her clothes a mere 40 times during the course of the movie.

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A spirited bouffant seduces actor Dick Smothers (yes, from The Smothers Brothers!). Smothers’ character is a politician based on our real-life Senator Harry Reid. At right is the king of insult comedy, our very own perennial headliner, Don Rickles! Rickles portrays an unassuming casino manager in the film, but the pecking order of power between these men is evident in the cut of the cloth of these suits.

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The De Niro character, Ace (based on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal), is a deliberate and disciplined casino-runner mobster. His impeccably severe dress is the symbolic giveaway here.

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Falling prey to a weakness for color-matching various components of any given outfit on any given day, Ace begins to disappear into the scenery at one point in the film. In this shot, he’s seen blending into the breakfast nook of his Las Vegas home.

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Ginger, played by Stone, worships at the altar of conspicuous consumption and adheres to the Marilyn Monroe maxim, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” In this scene, Ace gifts Ginger a new chinchilla fur coat designed in real life by Liberace’s furrier, Anna Nateece.

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Ginger, at the top of her game, is spellbinding in this scene and dressed to thrill in Biba meets Diana Ross; she is the embodiment of la dolce vita in ‘70s Las Vegas.

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In the don’t-try-this-at-home category comes this swanky devil seen at left. A little bit drapery, a little bit davenport, this polyester dream gets it wrong just right.

DTLV

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