The Gambler (1974 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Karel Reisz|
|Produced by||Irwin Winkler|
|Written by||James Toback|
|Music by||Jerry Fielding|
|Cinematography||Victor J. Kemper|
|Edited by||Roger Spottiswoode|
Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Inc.
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
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.
- James Caan as Axel Freed
- Paul Sorvino as Hips
- Lauren Hutton as Billie
- Morris Carnovsky as A.R. Lowenthal
- Jacqueline Brookes as Naomi Freed
- Burt Young as Carmine
- Carmine Caridi as Jimmy
- Vic Tayback as One
- Steven Keats as Howie
- London Lee as Monkey
- M. Emmet Walsh as Las Vegas Gambler
- James Woods as Bank Officer
- Carl W. Crudup as Spencer
- Beatrice Winde as Hospital Receptionist
- Antonio Fargas as Pimp
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.
"Caan became a great Axel Freed, although obviously different from the character De Niro would have created," wrote Toback later. 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."
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.
Scorsese left the project and filmmaker Todd Phillips was in talks to take over as of August 2012.
 In September 2013, Mark Wahlberg and director Rupert Wyatt expressed interest in making the film. Brie Larson and Jessica Lange were under consideration to appear. The shooting of the film began on January 20, 2014. It was released on December 25, 2014.
- The Gambler at the American Film Institute Catalog
- James Toback, "A Hollywood Mis-Education", Vanity Fair, March 2014 accessed 10 February 2014
- James Caan's career hitting tough times Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 27 Nov 1977: e6.
- Lyons, Paul. The Quotable Gambler, Globe Pequot, 1999, ISBN 1-55821-949-8, ISBN 978-1-55821-949-6, p.305.
- 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.
- Mike Fleming (2011-08-26). "Leonardo DiCaprio Attached To 'Gambler' Remake At Paramount With Martin Scorsese". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- Nikki Finke (2011-08-28). "James Toback On 'The Gambler' Remake: "Not Possible… Rudeness And Disrespect"". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- The Hollywood Reporter
- "'The Gambler', starring Mark Wahlberg, gearing up to begin filming in L.A." onlocationvacations.com. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014.