The Gambler (1974)

Karel Reisz directs James Caan, Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton in this Dostoevskian crime drama where a college professor pushes himself deeper into debt with the mob bookies.

I watched this a lot as a teen. I had it taped off TV and therefore easily watched it more than The Godfather. Caan is a force of nature here. Pacing the New York locations, hairy chest exposed, not taking any shit. A man seeks oblivion. The bets and risks are just him trying impose his will on reality. Doomed reality. You can’t fuck facts, facts fuck you. The strange Harlem epilogue (which has dated awfully due to the extreme Seventies stereotypes that populate it) is in keeping with the theme of the piece if not the classy, intelligent, gritty production values. Brilliant camera work by Victor J Kemper, he did Dog Day Afternoon and then pretty much any lightweight comedy you care to think of. James Toback’s script is smart, erudite and combative. The support cast is studded with great urban character actors. Lauren Hutton has a nicely complex role as the romantic interest… here more to be rejected rather than to add a layer of domestic comfort. I’d say this is the most nihilistic film I’ve seen but then we also watched Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia this week too. I’d say it is a perfect film but that ending isn’t just ambiguous or distasteful… it is almost too bludgeoning to close a film that has been so preternaturally measured and engaging. Would make a great, if intense, double bill with Uncut Gems.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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