Total Recall

Total Recall: Go All In with These Gambling Movies

Play your cards right with Dr. Mabuse, Maverick, and Rounders.

by | March 26, 2008 | Comments

Gambling is a great central theme for a film, if for no better reason it’s full
of drama, deceit, and the occasional reason to look at someone (hopefully
someone hot) under a table. With the appearance of
in theaters, we
thought it time to run through some of our personal highlights in the universe
of gambling movies.

Sure, you can throw a rock and hit an iffy gambler or thug at the tables (Scorsese‘s
Casino made that point perfectly clear) but the enduring lure of the
gambler revolves around his (or her) prowess at the game — which, if we
remember Rounders, has little to do with luck and lots to do with being
one step ahead. Card players (especially sexy ones) are the intellectual
equivalent of the football player: They have to see the plays coming from yards
away but when the play approaches their move should be liminal and give nothing
away. The gambler’s tricks mingle the cool of social skill and the intellect of
strategy with monk-like intensity. It’s no wonder James Bond played Baccarat —
icons are always enigmatic.

titular character of the
Fritz Lang classic
Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler
(1922, 89 percent on the Tomatometer)
is a master of magnetism, a hypnotist, an actor, an
impersonator with multiple identities and, of course, a gambler. The most common
translation of the title is Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, but “spieler”
literally means “player” — and that implies all Mabuse’s acts, not simply what
he does at the card table. While dealers in the upper-class vice dens of Weimar
Germany dole out cards, Mabuse (in crosscut) is shown playing his own game of
solitaire with a stack of IDs. This isn’t just about poker face — Mabuse is one
man playing a thousand and that puts a twist on his game. Lang constructs this
treatise on identity and the image while fully entrenched in his own, time
tested anxieties (death, authenticity, modernity).

Though its four-hour
running time (there are multiple versions on DVD) might seem daunting, the pic
is as magnetic as Mabuse himself, full of complex intrigue and ideas to untangle
— which is probably why it became such a successful serial in Germany, spawning
continuations. Keith Ulrich of Slant said, “Mabuse is a true bogeyman, a
hollow shell of surface tics with a terrifying dead-eyed stare.” Well, that’s
one way to describe a poker face.

all iconic movie gamblers are menacing. Take
(1994, 69 percent)
, for
example. The New York Times‘ Caryn James said, “You don’t have to know
anything about poker to guess that even away from the table, everyone in Maverick
is bluffing all the time.” James’ quote strikes two major chords: Firstly, the
film is as much about gambling as
Margot at the Wedding
is about floral
arrangements. Secondly, while the highest drama in Maverick happens at
the tables, bluffing and raising are practices just as actively pursued without
cards at play.

Inspired by the TV show of the same name,
Richard Donner‘s direction big-ups all
the conventions Westerns turned to cliché — but Donner does it in a gently
ironic way that makes all the Wagon-hanging, garter-gun-hiding hi jinx play well
for the megaplexes. Best of all is the way
Mel Gibson (then at the post-Lethal
height of fame) plays dumb to get his way. It’s an easy game that he
doesn’t do as well as his adversary/love-interest
Jodie Foster (sporting an off-southern accent) but it’s charming, and what’s a poker game without a little

tension between the players is what drives
(1998, 64 percent). Right
after Good Will Hunting,
Matt Damon was a hot commodity with everywhere
to go — not unlike his character in
John Dahl‘s neo-noir. Damon’s Mike
McDermott was years reformed from a career in poker when he opts to return in
order to help a friend pay off a loan shark. Time Out said, “Powerhouse casting
is the film’s strong suit,” but its abundant Indiewood cast isn’t its lone claim
to fame.

Rounders did for poker picture what
The Asphalt Jungle
for heist movies: it proves the specifics can be interesting. Most gambling
films skate right past gambling into the intrigue of cold reading or the quippy
play of bluffing, but not Rounders. Advised by a small army of
professional poker players, McDermott’s line, “it’s a game of skill,” echoes as
much in the dank corridors of New York’s underground dens than in the cavernous
halls of Las Vegas’ Bellagio. More famous is his incantation: “If you can’t spot
the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

you need more to get your gambling fix, consider watching
John Garfield take a
punch in Robert Rossen‘s
Body and Soul
(100 percent), or see
Elliot Gould
and George Segal get dicey in
Robert Altman‘s
California Split
percent). If you’d rather root for some sexy criminals maybe consider some
vintage Redford and
Newman in
George Roy Hill‘s
The Sting
(93 percent),
Sterling Hayden in
The Killing
(1956, 96 percent) or
in Scorcese’s Casino (83 percent).

Tag Cloud

Pop TV streaming DGA Action die hard Black History Month The Arrangement First Reviews cancelled television stand-up comedy universal monsters Dark Horse Comics YouTube Premium ABC TCA Winter 2020 CBS asian-american mutant Mary Poppins Returns south america game of thrones zombies SDCC LGBTQ game show Lifetime Animation Reality Competition classics superhero Rocky teaser ABC Family Awards Tour Song of Ice and Fire nbcuniversal Nickelodeon strong female leads toy story Arrowverse latino Disney Channel comedies Red Carpet TIFF Emmys Tumblr name the review OneApp Character Guide Television Critics Association stoner ghosts criterion Travel Channel movie children's TV Schedule comiccon justice league Turner Classic Movies Shudder zero dark thirty Trailer chucky spider-man thriller 21st Century Fox werewolf Universal Kids & Family Creative Arts Emmys YA rotten Winners Election Marvel Studios a nightmare on elm street NYCC Thanksgiving The Witch Fox News Elton John halloween aliens Pet Sematary Star Trek vampires 2017 Sundance MCU Amazon Prime crime drama jamie lee curtis Captain marvel medical drama ratings Women's History Month Tubi 2015 Cartoon Network period drama Stephen King Rom-Com CNN Sundance TV SundanceTV travel Interview crime Britbox PaleyFest green book CMT FX on Hulu screen actors guild Cosplay zombie quibi cults IFC Films emmy awards Baby Yoda laika Lionsgate Apple Acorn TV Comic Book Sneak Peek Film Festival scary movies Netflix Christmas movies Mudbound Walt Disney Pictures APB book VH1 WGN animated Hulu obituary IFC Calendar theme song Polls and Games doctor who biography adaptation cooking Holidays Mystery dark facebook comic dramedy Disney Plus Mary poppins disaster Set visit television Musical Year in Review dc Brie Larson X-Men Warner Bros. E3 christmas movies DC Universe Discovery Channel 2016 Amazon revenge Quiz See It Skip It psycho HBO Go HBO TV renewals composers Winter TV First Look canceled San Diego Comic-Con CW Seed Netflix all-time New York Comic Con batman Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 2018 versus cinemax Black Mirror what to watch Paramount Network crossover TCA 2017 OWN Disney BBC One Western Endgame Heroines Star Wars directors TCA Funimation Spring TV FXX WarnerMedia renewed TV shows AMC romantic comedy Grammys PBS Fantasy Rock boxoffice ITV Marvel Television 4/20 Marvel Summer comics joker Academy Awards Country BET miniseries supernatural sports Writers Guild of America anime binge concert rotten movies we love cancelled TV shows MTV Television Academy Photos based on movie Comedy Central diversity GoT Trivia screenings TCM video DC Comics Box Office Amazon Studios hollywood MSNBC 20th Century Fox Food Network sequel Martial Arts talk show Podcast serial killer 72 Emmy Awards YouTube breaking bad FX natural history Sci-Fi The Walking Dead Bravo Biopics TLC BAFTA NBC cancelled Anna Paquin hist TV Land HBO Max police drama reviews Starz documentary President nature TruTV Avengers Apple TV Plus cartoon spinoff Vudu Nominations cars BBC Awards indie TCA Awards LGBT psychological thriller Sony Pictures casting franchise Pixar worst Peacock Tarantino Binge Guide BET Awards free movies FOX documentaries kids Superheroe Marathons discovery twilight cats Valentine's Day Oscars VOD Showtime satire Best and Worst Fall TV Epix Extras Holiday Premiere Dates 24 frames true crime robots Disney+ Disney Plus TBS foreign festivals Ovation Columbia Pictures American Society of Cinematographers 45 Cannes Christmas Reality Video Games Classic Film Pride Month Trophy Talk Chernobyl DirecTV E! Crackle Drama VICE YouTube Red 71st Emmy Awards best fast and furious Film anthology SXSW transformers reboot Shondaland A&E Teen singing competition video on demand El Rey Lucasfilm Ghostbusters mockumentary adventure CBS All Access Esquire Music elevated horror 2019 Infographic unscripted Toys dceu independent sitcom USA Network cops historical drama The Purge finale Spike series Apple TV+ Countdown Ellie Kemper Adult Swim golden globes spain 2020 tv talk TNT Pop political drama Amazon Prime Video GLAAD Spectrum Originals USA Sundance Now A24 Pirates witnail Paramount Horror The CW Turner science fiction romance Mary Tyler Moore RT History dragons Rocketman spy thriller spanish language Superheroes TV social media Disney streaming service PlayStation Hear Us Out Super Bowl war films Comics on TV indiana jones Hallmark Emmy Nominations Syfy Lifetime Christmas movies History sag awards parents crime thriller Certified Fresh child's play Logo BBC America DC streaming service dogs Freeform 007 richard e. Grant Tomatazos Opinion GIFs canceled TV shows Chilling Adventures of Sabrina blaxploitation RT21 hispanic movies blockbuster politics docudrama Crunchyroll mission: impossible award winner harry potter National Geographic Musicals Mindy Kaling ESPN slashers cancelled TV series Hallmark Christmas movies Nat Geo stop motion news Masterpiece technology Family critics Watching Series Comedy space