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The Gambler 1974 versus 2014

A wry look at gambling, by a special correspondent.

Anyone else seen this film? Stars James Caan as a raving gambling addict who finds himself in debt to a loan shark. The writer James Toback drew on his own hard earned battles with addiction when writing this movie. The fact that the main character is a teacher is no coincidence either as Toback wrote The Gambler when teaching literature himself.

The opening scene of the film is the rapid unraveling of a bad night for the main character, played by actor James Caan as Axel Freed, a literature professor with a severe gambling habit. It turned out to be the biggest role for the actor who later said it was the most exciting role he ever played.

He gets down $44,000 to a seriously dodgy mob member nicknamed “Hips”, played by Paul Sorvino. Our man makes the worst bets possible. His vice is American roulette. After dropping forty large on black jack, he walks up to a roulette table and goes “Two thousand on red,” which he quickly loses. He then says, “Two thousand on black.” Leaving at dusk heading straight for school and owing 44.000 bobs, he decides to make another bet on the way, just to chase any win.

A fun fact is the iconic actor Robert De Niro was initially cast to play this role. One wonders if perhaps more people would have heard of it still to this day if he had.

The remake with Mark Wahlberg also called The Gambler, was released to mixed reviews in 2014. The sad and exhausting road down the rabbit hole which is any addiction is the same in both the 1974 and 2014 version. Its not a feel-good movie whichever one you watch. Most critics claim the remake was somewhat obsolete. In fact the one who stole the show was Academy award winner Jessica Lange, who played the strong and distressed mother of her gambling addicted so. Another film worth mentioning that deals with the grimmer side of the casino industry is Casino, starring Robert de Niro and Sharon Stone.

Some thoughts while we are on the topic of gambling
Problem gambling has been on the radar always. It's one of the many known vices of mankind. People will play and some get lost. In Australia some worrying figures have arisen in connection to online casino games. Although gaming has always been big down under it has now become more and more accessible. People love a gamble and people indulge in their favourite casino games sites like Guts Casino, bwin, unibet and other casino providers. Most of these have serious measures in place to protect the players, and are not the vultures one might imagine if one is new to the casino industry. Measures such as self exclusion, setting monthly or weekly budgets that are not raised until 3 weeks after setting it. Blocking of specific games is also an option if one gets worried about spending time and money on a specific say, table game, but still wants to play poker.

Footnote on Gambling movies
After dealing with two movies whose outcome was not the best, let's also remember the ones we have loved over time as well, where the tone is lighter, to say the least!

- Ocean’s Eleven original (Sinatra, Martin, Davies) & Oceans Twelve, Thirteen, Forteen
- The Hangover 1
- The Hustler (Paul Newman) 1961
- The Sting (Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 1973
- Bugsy (Warren Beaty & Anette Benning) 1991
- Casino Royale 1967
- Rain Man (Tom Cruise & Dustin Hoffman)
- Viva Las Vegas (Elvis Presley)
- Croupier (Clive Owen) 1998

So there we are. Two versions of the same gambling movie made three decades apart. Some reflection on gambling and a list of this author’s favourite gaming related movies.

Published October 15, 2016

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The Gambler (1974)

The Gambler (2014)

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