'The Gambler' *** 062505
DVD Review (1974)

The Work = ***
New York City college professor by day, gambler by night, it almost sounds like a super hero. Axel Freed is not a super hero though, he is a man with a powerful addiction that is destroying his life. James Caan as Freed, brings to the screen a man who is smart and fairly well spoken. He can describe what draws him to gambling and how it makes him feel.

His description masks the fact that he is seemingly, hopelessly, addicted to gambling. His problem is so big that even after racking up a huge debt in an underground casino he still stops on his way to work to make a bet against some neighborhood kids. Freed is educated and certainly not unintelligent but he is unable to recognize, or maybe just acknowledge, his own addiction. He is so compulsive that he even makes different kinds of wagers at the same time. (He bets with a bookie while going to a casino.)

'The Gambler' is an interesting film, slow in pace, it builds the amount of pressure placed on Freed as he digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole. The film was written by James Toback who was a college professor with a gambling addiction. Toback was also known as quite the ladies man and I have to wonder if he was not as compulsive about women and gambling in life as the character of Freed is about gambling in the film. Toback has written and directed some interesting films, he has a real talent but I don’t always like his films.

I like scenes in his film 'When Will I be Loved' but did not care for the movie as a whole. Here with 'The Gambler', the film has steady direction from Karel Reisz who keeps the movie moving along but doesn’t get too showy with his direction. The only other film I have seen that is directed by Reisz is 'Who’ll Stop the Rain' with Nick Nolte. I enjoyed the performances in that film but didn’t care for the conclusion of it. Here again I like the performances and I like the film more than I liked 'Who’ll Stop the Rain' but I am not sure that I understand the conclusion of 'The Gambler'.

The film seemed like it was headed to an ending and then it kept going. I don’t really understand the last act and what I was supposed to get from the very final conclusion. Perhaps it is meant to show that Freed finally sees his own wounds, finally knows his own weaknesses, or maybe it is something else altogether. In any event the lackluster ending didn’t ruin the film for me. It is still a good drama and a somewhat underrated picture.

DVD = ***

The Look
Paramount has done a pretty good job with the transfer for this DVD. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen in the aspect ration of 1.85:1. For the most part actually, the picture looked very good but a few shots looked pretty washed out to me. Paramount may be just a victim of poor source material.

The Sound
The English mono soundtrack doesn’t fair as well as the image. It may be the intention of the original filmmakers but this flic’ could have used an optional remastered soundtrack. Some of the dialogue was difficult to hear and seemed very low when compared with the rest of the soundtrack. Fortunately for some of the hard to hear dialogue there is an included English subtitle track. The DVD also has a French audio track that I did not review.

The Bonus
Bonus features? You don’t want those do you? Why would you want any of those? Freak. Seriously, there should have been something on this disc. Why not at the minimum an interview with Toback and Caan? Come on Paramount, suck it up and do the right thing people.

All Together = ***
'The Gambler' is an interesting film and worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of James Caan or James Toback. Caan gives a solid performance that helps carry the film. I didn’t care for the end of the film but maybe I missed something. It is a slow film but if you get hooked it is very engaging. Paramount may have put a good transfer on the disc but they should have put some extras on it too. Recommended none the less.


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