The Gambler

James Caan is a self-destructive degenerate gambler in Karel Reisz’s film of James Toback’s script.

This would make a good double feature with California Split, if only to demonstrate what Approach does to a piece of subject matter. As California Split is observational and behavioral, allowing us to watch the characters and draw our own conclusions, The Gambler boldly states its themes (Caan plays a college professor and the story periodically slams to a halt so that he can lecture his students on the film’s themes of Will and Risk and Fear and so forth).

As California Split seems very “slice of life,” with characters caught in everyday, perfectly ordinary scenes, The Gambler self-conciously packs in references to Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Mahler, Beckett (Caan, who is “in a hole” as a gambler, has a first edition of Beckett’s Happy Days on his desk, a play where the protagonist sinks into a literal hole)

A number of the cast members later showed up in Goodfellas, including Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent and Frank Sivero. Now they play old gangsters, but once upon a time they played young gangsters. 70s Usual Suspects Burt Young, Vic Tayback and M. Emmett Walsh show up, as does a skinny young actor named James Woods, playing, what else, a yuppie bank clerk.
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4 Responses to “The Gambler”
  1. eronanke says:

    Sorry, but all I hear is:

    You gotta know when to hold ’em.
    Know when to fold ’em.

  2. urbaniak says:

    I’m waiting to see “California Split” before I read your post on it. It occurred to me a couple of months ago that that’s a seventies Altman film I haven’t seen and that I should see it. I couldn’t find it today at either Tower or Virgin.

    Haven’t seen “The Gambler” either for that matter. I’ve seen “Thief,” wherein James Caan plays a thief.

    Speaking of Altman, have you seen his Chandler adaptation “The Long Goodbye?” A ’40s noir set in the present (early 70s), it’s proto-Big Lebowski.

    • Todd says:

      Wow, I’ve never heard of anyone reading the words “SPOILER ALERT” and then actually not reading the spoiler.

  3. toliverchap says:

    The Long Goodbye was a great one if you like noirs. The same song by John Williams in a variety of styles. I have not seen either of the last two movies you mentioned but I’ve put them on a list and I plan on checking them out. I enjoy the posts where you bring out somewhat obscure (to a kid like me I don’t know if that means much) films and talk about them a bit. I hope you continue to look at cool slightly offbeat stuff, I’ll start to make a list and have to check some of these flicks out.