The Gambler (1974)




Karel Reisz




James Caan, Paul Sorvino Lauren Hutton, Morris Carnovsky, Jacqueline Brookes, Burt Young, Carmine Caridi, Vic Tayback, Steven Keats, London Lee, M. Emmet Walsh, James Woods, Beatrice Winde, Antonio Fargas


Axel Freed (James Caan) is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all his money, he borrows from his girlfriend (Lauren Hutton), then his mother (Jacqueline Brookes) and finally some bad guys that chase him. Despite all of this he cannot stop gambling.


The criticism that has been expressed over the new remake starring Mark Wahlberg, which I haven't seen, gave me the motivation I needed to watch the original, and I fail to see why on Earth this film needed a remake in the first place.

"The Gambler" is an engrossing, intense thriller masquerading as a drama about gambling addiction as well as a great character study.

The title pretty much sums up the story, with the main character, Axel Freed, being a compulsive gambler. From the very beginning the film starts building the suspense very gradually until the edge of climax, and it keeps you wondering what Axel will do next as the film goes along.

More than anything else the film is a character study. A brilliant, even though quite depressing character study of a personality type than unfortunately is too prevalent in our society. Axel Freed is by no means a likable character; like most addicts all he cares about is his next hit. Though the most surprisingly aspect about this man is that despite his intelligence - he is a college professor -, and despite the pleading of the (rich) loved ones, he keeps on gambling because he is so addicted to risk he couldn't do otherwise.

Like Dostoyevsky's "Underground Man", to whom the film pays homage, "The Gambler" embraces the irrational will where two plus two equal five, where poets, athletes, and addicts know, feel that something against the odds is going to happen. It's very unlikely to happen, yet they bet against the odds because they feel it.

I read that James Caan was a cocaine addict at the time the film was made, and it does explain his intense acting. But his performance as Axel Freed is brilliant. The supporting cast also does a good job, and Victor J. Kemper's cinematography is excellent. 

Mention-Worthy Quotes

Axel Freed: I'm not going to lose it. I'm going to gamble it.


  1. I should watch the original. I saw the remake at the AFI Film Festival a couple of years ago and really didn't like it. The ONLY good thing about it was John Goodman, but that's because he's just good in pretty much everything. I couldn't have cared less about pretty much any of the characters, and that makes it really hard to sit through a movie.

  2. He never borrowed money from his girlfriend in the movie...