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For other uses, see Bugsy (disambiguation).
Bugsy poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by Barry Levinson
Warren Beatty
Mark Johnson
Screenplay by James Toback
Based on We Only Kill Each Other 
by Dean Jennings
Starring Warren Beatty
and Annette Bening
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Allen Daviau
Edited by Stu Linder
Christopher Holmes (Extended)
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • December 13, 1991 (1991-12-13)
Running time
137 minutes[1] (Theatrical cut)
150 minutes (Extended cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million[2]
Box office $49,114,016[3]

Bugsy is a 1991 American crime-drama film directed by Barry Levinson which tells the story of mobster Bugsy Siegel. It stars Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, and Bill Graham.

The screenplay was written by James Toback from research material by Dean Jennings' 1967 book We Only Kill Each Other.

There is a Director's Cut released on DVD, containing an additional 13 minutes not seen in the theatrical version.


Gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who works for the New York mob, goes to California and instantly falls in love with Virginia Hill, a tough-talking Hollywood starlet. The two meet for the first time when Bugsy visits his friend, actor George Raft, on a film set. He buys a house in Beverly Hills from opera singer Lawrence Tibbett, planning to stay while his wife and two daughters remain in Scarsdale.

As a representative for his associates Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, Bugsy is in California to wrestle control of betting parlors away from Los Angeles gangster Jack Dragna. Mickey Cohen robs Dragna's operation one day. He is confronted by Bugsy, who decides he should be in business with the guy who committed the robbery, not the guy who got robbed. Cohen is put in charge of the betting casinos; Dragna is forced to admit to a raging Bugsy that he stole $14,000, and is told he now answers to Cohen.

After arguments about Virginia's sexual trysts with drummer Gene Krupa and a variety of bullfighters and Siegel's reluctance to get a divorce, Virginia makes a romantic move on Bugsy. On a trip to Nevada to visit a gambling joint, Bugsy comes up with the idea for a hotel and casino in the desert. He obtains $1 million in funding from lifelong friend Lansky and other New York mobsters, reminding them that in Nevada, gambling is legal.

Virginia wants no part of it until Bugsy puts her in charge of accounting and begins construction of the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, but the budget soon soars to $6 million due to his extravagance. Bugsy tries everything to ensure it gets completed, even selling his share of the casino.

Bugsy is visited in Los Angeles by former associate Harry Greenberg. Harry has betrayed his old associates to save himself. Harry has also run out of money, from a combination of his gambling habits and being extorted by prosecutors who want his testimony. Though he is Harry's trusted friend, Bugsy has no choice but to kill Harry. He is arrested for Harry's murder, but the only witness is a cab driver who dropped off Harry in front of Bugsy's house. The driver is paid off to leave town, escorted to the train station by Cohen.

Lansky is waiting for Bugsy outside the jail. He gives a satchel of money to his friend. "Charlie doesn't have to know about it," he tells Bugsy, but warns, "I can't protect you anymore." The Flamingo's opening night is a total failure, and $2 million of the budget is unaccounted for, whereupon Bugsy discovers that Virginia stole the money. He tells her to "keep it and save it for a rainy day." He then tells Lansky never to sell his share of the casino because he will live to thank him someday.

Later that night, Bugsy is killed in his home by several gunshots. Virginia is told the news in Las Vegas and knows her own days could be numbered. An epilogue states that Virginia returned the missing money a week later and committed suicide at some point after that. It also states that by 1991, the $6 million invested in Bugsy's dream of Las Vegas had generated revenues of over $100 billion.



Warren Beatty's desire to make and star in a film about Bugsy Siegel can be traced all the way back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. After completing Reds, Beatty had several projects he wanted to do but his two dream projects were to produce, star and possibly direct the life story of Howard Hughes and the life story of Bugsy. Beatty stated that of all the characters he played in films, such as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde and John Reed in Reds, he felt he was the right actor to play both Bugsy and Hughes.

Beatty was fascinated by the character Siegel, whom he thought was a strange emblem of America (an American gangster who was the son of Jewish immigrants who became fascinated with Hollywood and who also envisioned a desert city in which legal gambling is allowed. Several filmmakers attempted to make a film based on Bugsy's life, most famously French director Jean-Luc Godard, who wrote a script entitled The Story and envisioned Robert De Niro as Siegel and Diane Keaton as Virginia Hill. In the late 1970s, Beatty met screenwriter, James Toback with whom he became fast friends when Beatty was preparing Heaven Can Wait. Years later, when Beatty was in pre-production on Ishtar, he contacted Toback and asked him to write a script on Bugsy.

During the course of six years and in between two films that he was involved in, Toback wrote a 400-page document of Bugsy's life, however, under some strange circumstances, Toback lost the entire document. Under pressure from Warner Bros., whom Beatty learned also had a Bugsy Siegel-script ready to be produced, Beatty pursued Toback to write a script on Bugsy based on the lost document Toback wrote. Toback handed his new script to Beatty and Beatty approved it and went to several studios in hopes of financing and distributing the film. Beatty presented Toback's script to Warner Bros. and claimed their script version of Bugsy was a much better one than the one Warner Bros. was interested in producing. Needless to say, Warner Bros. passed on the project and Beatty eventually got the film ready to be made at TriStar Pictures.

Initially, Toback was under the impression that he would be the director of the film. For a while, Beatty could not find a director to direct the film (he didn't know or chose not to know of Toback's desire to direct the film). Beatty feared that he would be stuck in the position of being the director of the film. He said, "I'm in just about every scene of the picture, and I didn't want to have to do all that other work." However, Beatty announced to Toback that Barry Levinson was on board to direct Bugsy. At first he was disappointed, but Toback quickly learned that Levinson was the right person to direct the film. Despite the length of the script (which would have been a three and a half to four hours length feature film), Beatty, Levinson and Toback condensed the script into a two and half/three hour structure script. The three (Beatty, Levinson and Toback) worked very closely during the production of the film and all three worked very closely and in a very collaborative way.

During casting, Beatty wanted Annette Bening to play the role of Virginia Hill. Before Bugsy, Bening was a candidate to play Tess Trueheart in Beatty's Dick Tracy. After seeing Bening's audition, Beatty phoned Levinson and said to him "She's terrific. I love her. I'm going to marry her". Levinson thought Beatty was just excited at her audition and didn't think that Beatty actually meant what he said. Both, Beatty and Bening stated that their relationship started after completing the film. Originally, Beatty played Bugsy with a heavy New York City accent (which can be heard in the trailer of Bugsy). However, both Levinson and Toback thought that the accent wasn't right for Beatty's portrayal as Bugsy and so Beatty dropped the accent (which he thought was "charming") and continued playing Bugsy with his regular voice. Principal photography began in January 1991 and filming wrapped in May 1991. Portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.[5] Later that summer, Bening was pregnant with her and Beatty's first child, which resulted in tabloid/media frenzy at the time. It was also during this time that Beatty asked Bening for her hand in marriage.

Bugsy had a limited released on December 12, 1991 and was released nationwide on Christmas Day of that year. The film was critically praised and did well at the box office. Bugsy was nominated for several awards and won the Golden Globe Best Drama Award and the film nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won two.

Warren and Annette's first child was born January 8, 1992 and Warren Beatty and Annette Bening were married on March 12, 1992. The couple are still married and they are the parents of four children.


Critical Response[edit]

Bugsy received very positive reviews from critics. It currently has an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews.


Bugsy won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dennis Gassner, Nancy Haigh) and Best Costume Design.[6] It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Warren Beatty), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.[7] It received eight (8) Golden Globe nominations and won for Best Picture – Drama. The Silence of the Lambs won many categories where Bugsy received nominations in 1991. The film was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.[8]


The film shows Siegel closing the Flamingo on Christmas of 1946 for improvements and being murdered that night alone at Virginia Hill's house. While Siegel did close the hotel that day, his murder took place six months later in June 1947. Furthermore, he was with associate Allen Smiley.

The film also completely ignores the role of William Wilkerson ('The Man Who Built Las Vegas') in the building of the Flamingo; Siegel is shown gazing over an empty desert and deciding to build the Flamingo, but the hotel was conceived and constructed wholly by Wilkerson — Siegel only became involved as it neared completion (Wilkerson owned 48% of the Flamingo until he sold out much later).


External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Dances with Wolves
Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama
Succeeded by
Scent of a Woman