Saturday, August 13, 2011

bad/awesome flixxx review: The Gambler (1974)

"They don't give out no prizes at the half-time Axel."- Jimmy

"The only thing that's standing between your skull and a baseball bat is my word."- Hips

"I'm not going to lose it. I'm going to gamble it."- Axel Freed

This was one of the hardest movies I've ever watched. I've had friends like this, and this is some rough shit. Just watching a person put themselves in jeopardy for NOTHING, for absolutely the dumbest, stupidest thing ever. The chance to maybe get up. But when you're on a losing streak like this Axel Freed, you should quit while you're ahead. James Caan is completely amazing. Gambling is a heavy heavy disease, especially when you are a smart, educated person, it just doesn't make sense. And then again, maybe it does. It took me a good while to process this one. Just what it would even feel like to be a person like this. I've never had these urges or desires, so it was an experience for sure. James Caan, Lauren Hutton, Paul Sorvino, and cameos by Mel from that old show Alice, and a young James Woods, a helluva flick, THE GAMBLER!!!

****There was no trailer for this film to be found anywhere online, so here's a clip where Axel is having to borrow a shitload of bread from his mother.****

This film starts out with one of the worst streaks of luck ever imagined. Axel Freed is out on the town, late one night running from table to table, game to game, and keeps going deeper and deeper in debt. His friend/bookie (I guess I should just say bookie huh? Cause this guy really isn't his friend. I mean he likes him alright, doesn't want him to get hurt, but would if he had to) Hips keeps telling him, "maybe you oughta call it a night Axel", everyone tries to get him to stop, but no. How deep does he go in? 44,000 bucks. FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND!! FORTY FOUR LARGE!! Are you shitting me? In one night?? That kind of debt usually takes about six years to rack up!! Then very quickly, the pressure is on to find the money to pay up. What does Axel do? He pulls over out of traffic, and bets some kids that he can beat the best one in basketball...

So Axel is an English professor by day. He goes to his class and begins to teach philosophically about Dostoyevsky. His reflections on the novels begin to mirror his actions in his daily life. He goes to lunch with his mother and beats around the bush about what he really wants from her. He then asks her for the bread very rudely. She says she'll have to think about it. He then is very rude to his hot girlfriend. Like she bugs him or something. Then he goes to a dinner with his rich grandfather, and his mother. He lies to her and says he doesn't need the money now. Then he finally tells her he does, or they're going to kill him. So his mother reluctantly gets him the money. What does he do instead of paying the bookies? Bets 15000 apiece on 3 different games and flies to Vegas with his girlfriend!!! The BALLS on this asshole!

So he checks on the games as he gets a drink from the bar on break from a pretty great streak in the casino. He's up on all 3, and meets another man who bet on the same games. He acts very cocky, goes back to the tables, and bets EVEN BOLDER. Then he calls it a night, flies home in the morning, arrives home and goes to bed. In the middle of the night, a loan shark comes calling. He wants the money for the the 3 lost games. Axel can't believe they all lost. He gets unbelievably mad, pays him the money that he was supposed to pay off his OTHER 44000 grand debt with, and then bets all he won in Vegas on a game that night in hopes to win back his original borrowed money so he doesn't get killed. Guess what happens? They lose.

At this point I expected Axel to skip the country, but his bookie says that he wouldn't be able to get far enough away anyway, so Axel tries to run from the goons but they eventually catch him. They take him to the head honcho, Mel, from Mel's diner. He asks interrogates him, Axel says his grandfather has money. Mel says no he doesn't, none that you can have. Mel already checked that. He then tells him that if he doesn't convince one of his students to throw his college basketball game by 7 points, he's dead. Axel reluctantly asks, and offers the kid 5000 bucks. The kid does it, but they almost win anyway. With the game over and Axel in the clear, his buddy bookie Hips remarks that the heavies will make that kid do that again. Axel says he won't do it, that he only did it in the first place to help him. Hips says, "once yer not a virgin anymore, you're a whore for life". This is the part that it took me a while to figure out. I GUESS that Axel is so bummed that he sunk so low (and possibly the fact that he involved his students) that he goes into the "wrong part of town" and tries to buy a cheap whore. Then he tries to rip her off, and the pimp gets involved. He brutally beats the pimp, but not before the whore cuts a huge slash across his face. Then he walks out, down the stairs, down the hall, and looks in the mirror at his scarred and bleeding face, and smiles. I'm guessing this is some sort of penance or something to remind him of how low he sunk. I don't know though... He was a fucked up dude. i wasn't expecting that part. Heavy shit. If you have a gambling problem, watch this, and get help. great flick.


  1. Yeah, this one was cool. Oddly what I remember most is Caan putting in contact lenses... which I have *never* seen in a movie! Another great gambling flick from the same year is CALIFORNIA SPLIT with Elliott Gould and George Segal. Ah, the '70s!

  2. News of first time screenwriters who pen spec scripts based on their own personal life experiences and actually – miraculously, really - see the film get made and released are always inspiring. The ones that always spring to mind for me are Robert Mulligan with Summer of 42; Douglas Day Stewart with An Officer and A Gentleman; and James Toback with The Gambler.