“Filmed under police protection!” “Based on facts!” “The inside story of the $8,000,000,000 gambling syndicate and its hoodlum empire!”
Producer Frank Seltzer started doing research for 711 Ocean Drive, originally known as Blood Money, in November 1948, intending to expose the race wire service as a new industry for hoodlums who lost out through the repeal of Prohibition. The final screenplay, credited to Richard English and Francis Swann, is a fictionalized but recognizable depiction of the late Bugsy Siegel and his former minion, Mickey Cohen.
In the wake of the gangland style execution of Bugsy Siegel in Beverley Hills on June 20, 1947, Governor Earl Warren formed a Crime Commission to study organized crime in California. As State Attorney General in 1939, Warren had nearly succeeded in shutting down the bookmakers’ lifeblood: the race wire. A decade later, wire service in California, though embattled, was still going strong.
The Crime Commission findings concluded that right after Prohibition, the biggest gambling books in town were operated by local underworld figures Tutor Scherer and former LAPD vice officer Guy McAfee, who had since become respectable, legitamate casino operators in Las Vagas; and that another Prohibition figure, Jack Dragna, had muscled in on their action only to himself be muscled out by Siegel, the New York mob’s man on the West Coast. In July 1942 Mickey Cohen and a hoodlum from Frenso named Joe Sica were dispatched to the wire service offices of Russel Brophy, son-in-law of the national race wire’s Chicago head James Ragan. They ripped out Brophy’s phone equipment and beat Brophy severly in a clash over efforts to establish a communications service for bookies. Failing to gain control of the wire by force, the mob set up a rival service known as Trans-America, which Siegel controlled in parts of the West. The losers were the lowly bookies who had to shell out for both services or else. After Regan was murdered in August 1946, the mob and the race wire operators came to terms. Siegel, however, by then involved in building the Flamingo Hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas, refused to give up his lucrative Trans-America. Dragna, who had run Trans-America’s Southern California offices for Siegel, pulled out of the operation in early June 1947. Two weeks later, Siegel was dead, shot with an M-1 carbide rifle through the living room window of Virginia Hill’s rented mansion. The race wire was a leading contender as the motive behind the act, and, as noted above, led to Governor Warren forming a special commission to study organized crime statewide.
Dragna and Cohen, the Crime Commission found, stepped into Siegel’s shoes, forming (apparently) rival factions, with the unfortunate Brophy and Sica eventually siding with Dragna. In the wee hours of July 19, 1949, there was a (supposed) attempt on Cohen’s life as he and his party left Sherry’s restaurant at 9039 Sunset Boulevard on the Sunset Strip. Dragna was questioned about the incident but said he at home in bed at the time.
On May 10, 1950, the US Senate formed a Crime Investigating Committee to investigate organized crime, similar to what California was already doing but on a national scale. It was chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) and is therefore often called the Kefauver Committee. Less than a month after the Kefauver Committee was formed, on June 14, producer Frank Selzer testified before the Committee in Washington DC and screened for them a copy of his film, telling of the threats and intimidation he and his crew experienced during the production. Seltzer said that his associates were told by Las Vegas gamblers, “we are going to stop you any way we can” and to “go back to Los Angeles where you belong.” The producer spent $77,000 recreating sets after being prevented from filming on location. Rumors floated that he was filming the life of Mickey Cohen, or maybe Bugsy Siegel. Lt. William Burns (not Byrnes) of the LAPD gangster squad assigned five detectives to watch over the filming. Vern Willis, president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce flatly denied the accusations, telling the LA Times that that the Chamber had urged Seltzer to eliminate the “falsehoods and fantasy” on which his script was based and when he refused to change it, “saw no reason to extend hospitality and assistance to a project that presented Las Vegas In such a preposterously false light.” Maybe it was just a publicity stunt on Seltzer’s part. For what it’s worth, however, Seltzer was testifying under oath whereas the Chamber of Commerce was merely telling its story to a newspaper reporter.
711 Ocean Drive debuted in Los Angeles Area theaters on July 20, 1950. Longtime LA Times film critic Edwin Schallert noted the “somewhat documentary” nature of the picture, which he called a “good sound melodrama with a surprising amount of excitement.” It is mostly notable for its many Los Angeles location shots.