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Bugsy poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Levinson
Produced by
Written byJames Toback
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyAllen Daviau
Edited byStu Linder
  • Mulholland Productions
  • Baltimore Pictures
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • December 13, 1991 (1991-12-13)
  • December 20, 1991 (1991-12-20)
(United States)
Running time
136 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million
Box office$49.1 million[2]

Bugsy is a 1991 American biographical crime film chronicling the life of American mobster Bugsy Siegel and his relationship with Virginia Hill. It is directed by Barry Levinson, written by James Toback, and stars Warren Beatty as Siegel and Annette Bening as Hill. The supporting cast includes Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, Bebe Neuwirth, and Joe Mantegna.

Bugsy was given a limited released by TriStar Pictures on December 13, 1991, followed by a theatrical wide release in December 20, 1991. It received generally positive reviews from the critics and was a minor box office hit, grossing $49.1 million on a $30 million budget. It received ten nominations at the 64th Academy Awards (including for Best Picture and Best Director) and won two: Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama.


In 1941, gangster Bugsy Siegel, who had partnered in crime since childhood with Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, goes to Los Angeles and instantly falls in love with Virginia Hill, a tough-talking Hollywood starlet. The two meet for the first time when Bugsy visits actor George Raft on the set of Manpower. He buys a house in Beverly Hills, planning to stay there while his wife and two daughters remain in Scarsdale, New York.

Bugsy is in California to wrestle control of betting parlors away from weak regional gangster Jack Dragna. Ascending local gangster 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 confess to a raging Bugsy that he stole $14,000 and is told he now answers to Cohen.

After arguments about Virginia's trysts with drummer Gene Krupa and various bullfighters and Bugsy's reluctance to get a divorce, Virginia makes a romantic move on Bugsy. On a trip to Nevada to make a maintenance call a rough gambling joint, Bugsy is struck with the inspiration for a luxury hotel and casino in the desert which happens to be in the only state where gambling is legal. He obtains $1 million in funding from Lansky and other New York mobsters, on the motion of going big doing it legit in Nevada. Virginia wants no part of it until Bugsy offers her a share, puts her in charge of accounting and begins constructing the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel Casino in Las Vegas; however, the budget soon soars out of control 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, who has betrayed his old associates to save himself and 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 him. He is arrested for the murder, but the only witness is a cab driver who dropped Harry off in front of Bugsy's house. The driver is paid to leave town.

Lansky waits for Bugsy outside the jail and gives a satchel of money to his friend, though warns that he will no longer be able to protect Bugsy. The Flamingo's opening night is a total failure in a rainstorm, and $2 million of the budget is unaccounted for. Bugsy discovers that Virginia stole the money, which he then lets her keep. He then urges Lansky never to sell his share of the casino because he will live to thank him someday.

Later that night, Bugsy is shot and killed in his home. Virginia is told the news in Las Vegas and knows her own days could be numbered.

The end title cards state that one week after Bugsy's death, Virginia returned all of the missing money to Lansky, and later committed suicide in Austria. By 1991, the $6 million invested in Bugsy's Las Vegas dream had generated $100 billion revenues.


Other cast members in smaller roles include Robert Glaudini as Dominic Manzella, Jack Dragna's hatchet man; Eric Christmas as Ronald the butler, Robert Beltran as Alejandro, Don Carrara as Vito Genovese, Bryan Smith as Chick Hill, Virginia's brother; Traci Lind as Natalie St. Clair, and Debrah Farentino & Wendie Malick as two of Bugsy's one-night stands.


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 that 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 that he was the right actor to play both Bugsy and Hughes.

Beatty was fascinated by Siegel, who 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 asked Toback 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,[clarification needed] Toback lost the entire document. Under pressure from Warner Bros., who Beatty learned also had a Bugsy Siegel script ready to be produced, Beatty pursued Toback to write a script based on his lost document. Toback handed his new script to Beatty. Beatty approved it and went to several studios in hopes of obtaining financing and distribution for the film. Beatty presented Toback's script to Warner Bros. and claimed that it was much better than the one that Warner Bros. was interested in producing. Warner Bros. passed on the project, and Beatty eventually got the backing of TriStar Pictures.

Initially, Toback was under the impression that he would be the director. For a while, Beatty could not find a director (he did not 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 having to direct the film himself. 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, Toback was disappointed, but he quickly learned that Levinson was the right person for the job. Despite the length of the script (which would have run three and a half to four hours), Beatty, Levinson, and Toback condensed it to a two-and-a-half to three-hour script. The trio worked very closely together during the production of the film.

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 her audition, Beatty phoned Levinson and told him, "She's terrific. I love her. I'm going to marry her". Levinson thought Beatty was just excited at her audition and did not think that Beatty actually meant what he had said. Both Beatty and Bening stated that their relationship started after completing the film. Later that summer, Bening became pregnant with her and Beatty's first child, which resulted in a tabloid/media frenzy at the time. The child was born January 8, 1992, and the couple married on March 12.

Originally, Beatty played Bugsy with a heavy New York City accent (which can be heard in the trailer). However, both Levinson and Toback thought that the accent was not right, so Beatty dropped the accent (which he thought was "charming") and used his normal voice.

Principal photography began in January 1991, and filming wrapped in May 1991. Portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.[3][failed verification][4]


Bugsy had a limited release on December 13, 1991, and was released nationwide on December 20, 1991. A director's cut was released on DVD, containing an additional 13 minutes not seen in the theatrical version.


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 85% based on 60 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Stylishly scattered, Bugsy offers cinematic homage to the infamous underworld legend, chiefly through a magnetic performance from Warren Beatty in the title role."[5] Metacritic gave the film a score of 80 based on 27 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four of four stars, saying "Bugsy moves with a lightness that belies its strength. It is a movie that vibrates with optimism and passion, with the exuberance of the con-man on his game."[7]


Bugsy won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dennis Gassner, Nancy Haigh) and Best Costume Design.[8] 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.[9] It received eight Golden Globe nominations and won for Best Motion 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.[10]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ "BUGSY (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  2. ^ "Bugsy (1991) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  3. ^ Palm Springs Visitors Center. "Coachella Valley Feature Film Production 1920–2011". Filming in Palm Springs. Palm Springs, CA. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved October 1, 2012.
  4. ^ http://visitpalmsprings.com/stream/126941?mode=Download[dead link]
  5. ^ "Bugsy (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  6. ^ "Bugsy Reviews". Metacritic.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 20, 1991). "Bugsy". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  8. ^ "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
  9. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (1992-02-20). "Bugsy a Big Winner In Oscar Nominations Rife With Surprise". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
  10. ^ "Berlinale: 1992 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  13. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

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