Robert De Niro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, Vegas casino executive and mob associate
Las Vegas, Spring 1977
Release Date: November 22, 1995
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Design: Rita Ryack & John A. Dunn
Spring is coming, and that means bright colors… a color palette that few movies have mastered for men’s fashion as well as Scorsese’s epic Casino.
As top handicapper and Vegas casino runner “Ace” Rothstein, Robert De Niro wears more than fifty different costumes, all generally a series of colorful suits and sport coats. Some who don’t know better have criticized the film for this, unable to take the man seriously for his wardrobe. However, Ace’s costumes are a reflection of the wardrobe of his real life counterpart Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. In fact, costumer Rita Ryack mentions in an interview that the real Lefty’s clothing was even more extravagant than De Niro’s.
(The few photos available online of Rosenthal indeed show some lively attire, but a good example is this YouTube clip of his short-lived variety show from the ’70s where he is wearing a lavender suit. Interestingly, his guests are Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles; Rickles would star in Casino as Rothstein/Rosenthal’s right-hand man and casino manager, Billy Sherbert.)
While some men might look clownish in these bright pastels, De Niro still looks as intimidating as ever, coolly firing a Norm MacDonald-lookalike for his undeniable incompetence before terrorizing a poor pastry chef with his impossible demands for the perfect blueberry muffin.
What’d He Wear?
For Ace Rothstein, nothing is an accident. Unlike most of the gamblers from whom he benefits, every move is a calculated risk from his love life to his wardrobe. Such a pragmatic manipulator is the perfect person to run a Las Vegas casino. Like the city itself, his clothes may look garish and flashy from the outset, but taking a closer look shows a tightly-run system.
On this day in the casino, Rothstein wears a colorful wool plaid sport coat. The base is a light gray and cream check that blends to form a taupe solid-looking ground. The double-layered overcheck consists of a thin mustard yellow triple check and a light blue windowpane. The blue windowpane creates a “block stripe” effect as each of the yellow checks intersects on every other stripe. (If you can’t figure out what I’m talking about, just look really hard at the picture. Or ask your tailor – he’ll know how to describe it better than I do.)
Despite the mass variations in colors, fabrics, and styles for all of Ace’s sport coats and suit jackets, almost all of them are tailored in the same fashion: single-breasted with a 2-button front and 1-button cuffs. This jacket is no exception with its two light brown horn buttons and single decorative button on each slightly flared cuff. Ace’s preference for this fit – and his ability to incorporate it across the board – is yet another sign of his meticulous nature.
One place where we do often see variation with Rothstein’s jackets are his lapels. Throughout the film, he wears notch lapels, peak lapels, and an odd cross between the two slightly resembling Don Corleone’s “cran necker” lapel (for example: the salmon pink sportcoat when his car blows up). This plaid jacket features more typical notch lapels with no buttonholes. Despite the era’s notorious sartorial excesses, Ace is a man of moderation and his lapels remain a standard width.
The sportcoat has straight jetted hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, where he wears a folded sky blue display handkerchief to match his shirt. The shoulders are slightly padded with roped sleeveheads, and the double rear vents extend about 12″ high to his natural waist. Although a neutral fit overall, the slight flare of each cuff and the long double vents are undoubtedly elements of ’70s fashion.
And speaking of the ’70s… he wears a delightfully yellow pair of polyester flat front trousers! The trousers are actually part of another suit that he wears earlier in the film when “ejecting” a rude cowboy from Nicky’s crew out of the casino by his head. They are fitted to his waist with an extended squared tab that closes in the front with two concealed hook closures. The plain-hemmed bottoms flare out slightly, but the generous fit of the trousers keeps them from looking too Welcome Back, Kotter-ish.
A general rule for men’s clothing is to match the socks to the trousers to continue the leg line before the shoes. Ace Rothstein, however, takes it a step further and matches his shoes to his trousers by sporting a pair of hip yellow leather loafers, likely with a pair of cream or (god help us) yellow socks. We only get a glimpse of them as he leads Kevin Pollak into the bakery kitchen, but they’re undeniably yellow and certainly well-shined.
Since the yellow check of the jacket is picked out by the trousers, it’s only expected of Ace that the sky blue silk shirt (and its matching pocket square) would perfectly emphasize the jacket’s blue overcheck. Anto made the shirts that De Niro wore in Casino, and this sport shirt with its large open collar without a button to close, is listed on their site as the “Anto 1955 Sport Shirt”. It has white plastic buttons down a plain front and a breast pocket that closes with a matching button on a pointed flap. The 1-button cuffs are mitred, a more casual concession than the tab cuffs on many of his dress shirts.
Flashy though his wardrobe may be, Ace keeps his accessories relatively toned down. His only piece of jewelry is a 14-carat yellow gold ring with a white diamond on his right pinky. Being a meticulous, analytical man, there’s no way he wouldn’t wear a watch; in this scene, he wears a yellow gold square watch with a link bracelet on his right wrist.
The maker of the watch is still undetermined, by me at least. Due to the millions of dollars of Bvlgari jewelry that Ace buys for his wife, many assume that Bvlgari also provided Ace’s watches, although Bueche Girod, Juvena, and Noblia are all confirmed to have contributed watches to De Niro’s wrist in Casino. Luckily, one or two of this blog’s readers know quite a bit about watches!
Go Big or Go Home
Unexpected conflicts are natural at work, and poor Ace is given two of an afternoon! The first, and arguably the worse of the two, is his dumbass slot manager’s inability to recognize that his own machines were rigged despite the billions-to-one odds of three four-reel machines making three jackpots in a row.
It cannot happen, would not happen, you fuckin’ momo! What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you see you were being set up on the second win?
And here, Ace makes a decision to fire the man on-the-spot. Insultingly, of course, as Ace has no tolerance for anyone with an IQ below his own.
Ace: Listen, you fuckin’ yokel, I’ve had it with you. I’ve been carrying your ass in this place ever since I got here. Get your ass and get your things and get out of here.
Don: You’re firing me?
Ace: I’m firing you. No, I’m not firing, I’m firing you, ya…
Don: You might regret this, Mr. Rothstein.
Ace: I’ll regret it even more if I keep you on.
Don: This is not the way to treat people.
Ace: Listen, if you didn’t know you were being scammed you’re too fuckin’ dumb to keep this job, if you did know, you were in on it. Either way, you’re out! Get out.
Thus, poor Don Ward – the “fuckin’ momo” slots manager – is forced to leave the casino with his tail and his diamond-embellished bolo tie between his legs. Serenading him on his exodus is Cream’s “Those Were the Days” from their 1968 album Wheels of Fire.
The musical mood shifts for the next scene as we see Ace conversing with Philip Green (Kevin Pollak) in the casino’s tiki lounge about his firing Don earlier in the day. Of course, it’s not the potential implications of firing a county commissioner’s brother-in-law that’s getting Ace’s goat, it’s the lack of blueberries in his muffin compared to the veritable harvest in Green’s muffin. Ignoring Green’s warning, Ace heads into the kitchen and demands the milquetoast baker:
From now on, I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin…An equal amount of blueberries in each muffin.
The nonplussed baker is only able to respond, “Do you know how long that’s going to take?” This is one of the funniest line readings in the movie, and the actor – Jack Orend – deserves some recognition. Jack, wherever you are, excellent job.
Ace just thrusts the unsatisfactory muffin into his hand and brushes off the concern:
I don’t care how long it takes. Put an equal amount in each muffin.
The comedy of the situation is underlined by Lee Dorsey’s upbeat 1966 single “Working in the Coal Mine”, penned by Allen Toussaint and now famous as a Walmart jingle.
Of course, readers of the book Casino know that this was a real situation. One morning, a frustrated “Lefty” Rosenthal was sitting in the Stardust’s restaurant when he noticed his blueberry muffin devoid of flavor. Instantly, he marched to the kitchen and demanded that the baker place at least ten blueberries in each muffin. As Casino‘s author Nicholas Pileggi told the New York Times after Lefty’s death in 2008, “He was a fascinating guy. Really smart, a real ‘Rain Man’ type with numbers; he didn’t need an adding machine. He wasn’t a gangster, really, but he was part of a world where that was the means of control.”
How to Get the Look
Don’t be afraid to let your colorful side shine… you may just leave casino managers and muffin bakers quaking in their boots.
- Taupe, yellow, and light blue plaid single-breasted sport coat with notch lapels, 2-button front, welted breast pocket, jetted straight hip pockets, 1-button flared cuffs, and long double rear vents
- Sky blue silk Anto sport shirt with large open point collar, plain front, flapped breast pocket, and mitred button cuffs
- Yellow polyester flat front suit trousers with an extended waistband tab, frogmouth front pockets, slightly flared legs, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Yellow leather loafers
- Cream silk dress socks
- Yellow gold wristwatch with a square case and link bracelet
- Yellow gold 14-carat diamond pinky ring, worn on the right pinky
- Sky blue display handkerchief, folded into the jacket’s breast pocket
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie. And, for Ace’s sake, eat a well-endowed blueberry muffin!
Everybody out here with cowboy boots is a fuckin’ county commissioner or related to a county commissioner. I’m fuckin’ sick of it.