The Gambler (1974) Movie Review

James Toback wrote this long-forgotten look at the gambling mind back in the early 1970s, but it remains one of the most accurate and stirring portraits of the betting mentality ever put to film.

James Caan owns the movie, as a vey charismatic English professor with a bad gambling addiction -- he borrows money from his girlfriend (Lauren Hutton), his mother, and the mob, and invariably he loses it all. Why play? Because of the thrill. In one scene, when he doubles down on 18 during a game of blackjack (for casino novices: this is absolute insanity), our antihero actually wins. Eventually, though, even the best streak goes bust, and it's in Caan's darkest hours that the movie shines the most.

Featuring a great supporting performance from Paul Sorvino (with hair!) as a bookie, the film is to gambling what Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend are to alcohol. His existential metaphors for life (drawn right from the novels and poetry he teaches at school) are a masterful way to weave the classics into a contemporary tale.

Too bad Hutton is less than impressive and the direction and soundtrack are simply straightforward, leaving little impression. Good thing that Caan doesn't need much else (aside from his 'fro) to carry the picture.


The Gambler (1974) Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1974


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