The Gambler (1974 film)

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The Gambler
The Gambler (1974 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKarel Reisz
Produced byIrwin Winkler
Robert Chartoff
Written byJames Toback
StarringJames Caan
Paul Sorvino
Lauren Hutton
Morris Carnovsky
Burt Young
Music byJerry Fielding
CinematographyVictor J. Kemper
Edited byRoger Spottiswoode
Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Inc.[1]
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 2, 1974 (1974-10-02)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Gambler is a 1974 American mystery drama film written by James Toback and directed by Karel Reisz. It stars James Caan, Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton. Caan's performance was widely lauded and was nominated for a Golden Globe.


Axel Freed is a New York City Harvard University–educated English professor and author with a gambling addiction that begins to spiral out of control. In the classroom, Freed inspires his college students with his interpretations of Fyodor Dostoevsky's work. In his personal life, Axel has the affection of the beautiful Billie and the admiration of his family, including his mother Naomi, who is a doctor, and his grandfather, a wealthy businessman.

Unbeknownst to them, Axel's reckless gambling has left him with a huge debt. His bookie, Hips, likes the professor personally but threatens grave consequences if he does not pay up. When Billie, having been informed by Axel that he owes $44,000, questions the wisdom of her associating with him, Axel confidently tells her she loves his life's dangers, including "the possibility of blood".

After obtaining the $44,000 from his mortified mother, Axel goes with Billie to Las Vegas and gambles it into a small fortune, only to blow it all again on basketball bets. He takes out his anger on Billie, who does not appreciate having loan sharks come to their apartment in the middle of the night. Expecting help from his grandfather, Axel gets nothing but the older man's disappointment and disgust.

Axel's only way to avoid the debt is to lure one of his students, a basketball star, into accepting a bribe from Axel's creditors to shave points in a game. He does so. When the game has ended in accordance with the plan, Axel says good-night to Hips by wandering off into a black ghetto near the gymnasium where the game has been played; he ignores a warning from Hips that the area is a jungle.

Axel proceeds to lure a pimp into a life-or-death fight by refusing to pay a prostitute. As Axel beats him nearly to death, the prostitute slashes him across the face. As Axel is leaving the scene of the fight, he studies himself in a mirror and smiles enigmatically at the blood coming from the wound.



The film was the first produced screenplay by James Toback. Toback had worked as an English lecturer at the City College of New York and had a gambling problem. He originally wrote The Gambler as a semi-autobiographical novel but halfway through started envisioning it as a film and turned it into a screenplay.

Toback completed it in 1972 and showed it to his friend Lucy Saroyan, who introduced Toback to Robert De Niro. Toback became enthused about the possibility of De Niro playing the lead. He showed the script to his literary agent who gave it to Mike Medavoy who attached director Karel Reisz. Reisz did not want to use De Niro and cast James Caan instead.[2]

"Caan became a great Axel Freed, although obviously different from the character De Niro would have created," wrote Toback later.[2] It was filmed at a time when leading actor James Caan was battling his own addiction to cocaine. Caan says the film is one of his favorites. "It's not easy to make people care about a guy who steals from his mother to pay gambling debts."[3]

Some see the film as a loose adaptation of the short novel The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.[4][5]


In August 2011, Paramount Pictures announced a remake of the 1974 film The Gambler with the original producers, Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. Intended as a new directorial project for Martin Scorsese, it was reported that Leonardo DiCaprio was attached as the star and William Monahan would write the screenplay.[6]

In a 2011 interview, screenwriter James Toback gave the story of the original film's autobiographical background and development, and criticized the announcement of the remake.[7]

Scorsese left the project and filmmaker Todd Phillips was in talks to take over as of August 2012.

[8] In September 2013, Mark Wahlberg and director Rupert Wyatt expressed interest in making the film.[9] Brie Larson and Jessica Lange were under consideration to appear.[10] The shooting of the film began on January 20, 2014.[11] It was released on December 25, 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Gambler at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b James Toback, "A Hollywood Mis-Education", Vanity Fair, March 2014 accessed 10 February 2014
  3. ^ James Caan's career hitting tough times Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 27 Nov 1977: e6.
  4. ^ Lyons, Paul. The Quotable Gambler, Globe Pequot, 1999, ISBN 1-55821-949-8, ISBN 978-1-55821-949-6, p.305.
  5. ^ Bronson, Eric. Poker and Philosophy: Pocket Rockets and Philosopher Kings Open Court Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0-8126-9594-1, ISBN 978-0-8126-9594-6, p.57.
  6. ^ Mike Fleming (2011-08-26). "Leonardo DiCaprio Attached To 'Gambler' Remake At Paramount With Martin Scorsese". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
  7. ^ Nikki Finke (2011-08-28). "James Toback On 'The Gambler' Remake: "Not Possible… Rudeness And Disrespect"". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
  8. ^ The Hollywood Reporter
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "'The Gambler', starring Mark Wahlberg, gearing up to begin filming in L.A." 17 January 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014.

External links[edit]