The September, 2006, release of Hollywood’s latest poker themed movie, “Lucky You” starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore continues a decades-long love affair between gambling and the movies. Gambling has long fascinated the movie-going public, and many fans of this genre enjoy the thrill of watching big stakes gambling without any risk to their own bankrolls. As an example, the following is a brief description of a few films based on this theme:
1922: Dr. Mabuse – Der Spieler ( “The Gambler” )
One of the earliest films to incorporate high stakes gambling in the storyline, the film centers around arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse, a counterfeiter, hypnotist, master of disguise and card shark. At the gaming tables, Dr. Mabuse reaps a fortune in card play by using his intense hypnotic powers to manipulate wealthy players into seeing cards that don’t exist, and to make choices guaranteed to ruin their game.
Under the guidance of acclaimed German film director Fritz Lang, this movie has gained recognition as one of the most important and influential films of the silent movie era.
1961: The Hustler
Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason:
An unforgettable performance by Paul Newman as “fast” Eddy Felson, a drifter and pool hall hustler, who is manipulated by sleazy manager Scott into a high stakes match with the legendary pool shark Minnesota Fats, ( Gleason ).
Although this gambling-themed movie is about pool, poker players will recognize the similarities in strategy; the importance of body language (known in poker jargon as a “tell”), holding back the sweat, the look of confidence, etc.
1965: THE CINCINNATI KID
Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Joan Blondell, Tuesday Weld:
Steve McQueen gives a great performance as an itinerant card shark traveling from one big game to another. The climactic poker game between McQueen and Robinson is the film’s highlight.
1966: A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY
Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards Jr., Burgess Meredith:
Fonda and wife Woodward arrive in Laredo during an annual high-stakes poker game. Hoping for a windfall, Fonda decides to risk the couple’s savings and joins the game. Henry is on a big losing streak and in danger of busting out when “the little lady” comes to his rescue at the table.
1973: THE STING
Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw:
Newman and Redford are two small time con men operating in and around Chicago in the mid-1930s. A big stakes card game takes place as the duo try to put “the sting” on mobster Shaw.
1974: CALIFORNIA SPLIT
George Segal, Elliot Gould:
Gould and Segal are two compulsive gamblers with strange lifestyles. This is an entertaining, compelling and powerful film that captures poker parlor habituds down on their luck and hoping for a reprieve. The title of the film is western-slang jargon for cutthroat poker.