Bugsy is a 1991 American biographical crime drama film directed by Barry Levinson which tells the story of mobster Bugsy Siegel and his relationship with Virginia Hill. It stars Warren Beatty as Siegel and Annette Bening as Hill, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, and Joe Mantegna. The screenplay was written by James Toback from research material by Dean Jennings' 1967 book We Only Kill Each Other.

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)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[2]
Box office$49.1 million[3]

The film received acclaim from critics, including Roger Ebert, and was nominated for ten Oscars at the 64th Academy Awards, winning two for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.

A director's cut was released on DVD, containing an additional 13 minutes not seen in the theatrical version.


Gangster Bugsy Siegel, who works for Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" 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 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 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, 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. He 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 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 is waiting for Bugsy outside the jail. He gives a satchel of money to his friend. "Charlie [Luciano] 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 shot and killed in his home. Virginia is told the news in Las Vegas and knows her own days could be numbered.



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, 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.[4][5]


Bugsy had a limited release on December 13, 1991, and was released nationwide on December 20, 1991. The film was critically praised and did well at the box office.

Critical response

Bugsy received very positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 85%, based on 59 reviews, with the site's critical consensus reading, "Stylishly scattered, Bugsy offers cinematic homage to the infamous underworld legend, chiefly through a magnetic performance from Warren Beatty in the title role." 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."[6]


Bugsy won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dennis Gassner, Nancy Haigh) and Best Costume Design.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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


The film shows Siegel closing the Flamingo on Christmas of 1946 for improvements and being murdered that night alone at his Beverly Hills home. 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).


  1. "BUGSY (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 1992-01-09. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  2. "Bugsy (1991) - Box office / business".
  3. "Bugsy (1991) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  4. 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.
  5. http://visitpalmsprings.com/stream/126941?mode=Download
  6. Ebert, Roger (December 20, 1991). "Bugsy". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  7. "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
  8. Weinraub, Bernard (1992-02-20). "Bugsy a Big Winner In Oscar Nominations Rife With Surprise". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
  9. "Berlinale: 1992 Programme". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  10. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  11. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  12. "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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