Nevada's Mob Movies

"Welcome Mob Bosses" read a Reno casino marquee for an entire day in 1997 and oddly enough, no one seemed to notice this proclamation that would never occur in real life—it was a gag for the spoof Mafia! filming in town that week. Movies, television, and history have forever linked Nevada and the mob in the public mind, so that audiences easily accept any plot element involving casinos run by organized crime.

Screen lore connecting Nevada and the mob springs from historical figures such as Bugsy Siegel, whose Mafia ties and building of the Flamingo casino-resort in Las Vegas gained nearly mythic stature. He is the subject of Bugsy (1992) and his spirit appears under other names in The Godfather (1972), Neon Empire (1989), and The Marrying Man (1991) as a character who dreamed up the idea of Las Vegas. Historians argue that point, noting that Billy Wilkerson and others were there first with similar plans, but the simplified nature of telling a story in the short time frame of a movie or television program makes Siegel an easier tool.

Similarly, there is historical precedent in some casinos being run by organized crime as plenty of documentaries, books, and the film Casino (1995) indicate, but it was less prevalent in reality than movies generally indicate. Films such as Sister Act (1992), The Messenger (1987), The Last Don (1997), and Blind Fury (1989) assume audiences will easily accept that their bad guy is a mobster running a casino. The Las Vegas casino/mob connection ran for two years during the television series Crime Story (1986-88), Michael Mann's show that helped make Dennis Farina a star and provided early work for people such as Kevin Spacey and Julia Roberts. Linking casinos to organized crime makes sense in plotting for all these stories—the operations can be good businesses, providing a laundry for money while serving as a comfortable home for profitable legal and illegal vices.

Among criminal activities by mobsters in casinos, murder and mayhem are preferred. Numerous stories feature paid muscle whose duties often include killing the people who have done them wrong, as well as those who might try in the future. Killers chase Sylvester Stallone in Get Carter (2000), Walter Matthau in Charley Varrick (1973), Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (1988), Cathy Moriarity in Another Stakeout (1993), and Julia Roberts in The Mexican (2001). The list of similar concepts runs significantly longer, with the standout hit man/hit woman movie being John Huston's Prizzi's Honor (1985). It features Angelica Huston's Oscar-winning turn as a Prizzi who makes a short trip to Las Vegas checking on previous actions by professional killer Kathleen Turner.

Despite their illegal proclivities, criminals seem to share the general public's appreciation for Lake Tahoe and often head there on retreat. The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Last Don, Things Change (1988), and Smokin' Aces (2007) all show that Tahoe is a beautiful place to visit, regardless of whether someone needs to be killed there.

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