Release Date(s)1970 (November 7, 2023)
Studio(s)U-M Film Distributors (VCI Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
The Gamblers is an American/Yugoslavian production shot entirely in Dubrovnik, now a part of Croatia. The story follows a couple of con men who set out on an Adriatic cruise in search of wealthy men as marks to be bilked out of gambling money.
Rooney (Don Gordon, Bullitt) and his friend Goldy (Stuart Margolin, Death Wish) are a couple of card sharks adept at passing themselves off as a psychiatrist and assistant, respectively. They have what they believe is a foolproof system to ensure hefty wins at the poker table. They meet another pair of con men working aboard the ship, Broadfoot (Kenneth Griffith, Four Weddings and a Funeral), an Englishman, and his French partner, Cozier (Pierre Olaf, Camelot).
In a high-stakes poker game, the European grifters discover they have been conned by the Americans but admire Rooney’s system and propose teaming up. Broadfoot and Cozier are on the way to entice a local aristocrat with a love of gambling to join them in a game that promises big money. If Rooney and Goldy will join forces with them, they will agree to split the winnings. A fellow passenger, the alluring young English woman Candace (Suzy Kendall, To Sir With Love), is excited by these clever con men and contrives to assist them in fooling their marks and enriching themselves.
Gordon and Margolin have good screen chemistry but Gordon is merely adequate in a role that demands more flash. Margolin offers comic relief and works effortlessly to balance humor with the serious business of setting up a scam. Kendall, attractive and charming, eventually figures into the grand scheme but doesn’t have a great deal to do. Attired mostly in bikinis and mini skirts, she adds feminine beauty to the otherwise all-male cast. Kendall has a knack for comedy, but it’s underused.
The film has an interesting premise but is awfully slow to move the plot along. Director Ron Winston incorporates some surprises and twists along the way but by the time they occur, the film has already lost the viewer. Part of this is due to the sluggish screenplay by writer/director Winston and a distinct lack of suspense. In addition, there’s no real star power to shore up the film. Gordon and Margolin had long careers as character actors and secondary leads. As leading players, they bring little dazzle to the screen. The picture looks like one of the made-for-TV movies that were about to hit their heyday when The Gamblers was released.
Winston’s direction is uninspired. He appears content to plunk down the camera in the most convenient spot and take long, uninterrupted shots, overusing the zoom lens to move into close-ups rather than cut to a close-up, which would have required more time and a separate setup. With hardly any tracking shots or interesting camera angles to create visual variety, the look of the film suggests haste rather than care. The dialogue-heavy script often gives the film the feel of a stage play. The G rating made for a bland picture with little edginess.
The Gamblers was shot by director of photography Tomislav Pinter on 35 mm color film and presented ion the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The color hues tend to muted tones, with browns, greys, and deep greens most prominent. A bright red sports car “pops” in an otherwise subdued palette. Zooms are used extensively, and a few high-angle shots provide a nice wide view of a plaza with scores of pigeons flying about. Shots tend to be long and unrelieved. The film really sparkles only with views of the spectacular Adriatic coast and the serene turquoise sea. Some lovely shots of mountains, the cruise ship at sea, and a water skiing sequence open up the otherwise claustrophobic settings.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Dolby Digital. English subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is, for the most part, clear, but the overall soundtrack is muddy. Sound effects include a car’s engine, a boat’s outboard motor, water skiers skimming the surface, a PA announcer’s voice in the airport, and ambient noise in crowd scenes.
The only extra on VCI Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is an audio commentary by film historian Robert Kelly.
Audio Commentary – Robert Kelly provides an enthusiastic commentary on The Gamblers. He notes that, despite publicity information, the film is based not on an 1866 novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky but on an 1840 play by Nikolai Gogol. Referring to the film as a “charming little caper film,” Kelly categorizes it as a sub-category of caper—the card shark film, such as Maverick, The Cincinnati Kid, The Sting, and Big Hand for a Little Lady. The upbeat, jazzy score by John Morris is perfect accompaniment for the story and early on establishes the film’s tone. The film leans toward showing the characters’ interactions rather than watching them sweat out high-stakes card games. Not a typical man of mystery, Rooney is not above swiping hotel mini soaps, sugar packets, and even light bulbs. Everyone in the film is lying to everyone else, making for surprise revelations along the way. A brief history of Dubrovnik, where the film was shot, is provided. It was also the location used for Game of Thrones. The glamorous location is a positive aspect of the film, providing exotic views to audiences who were still impressed by foreign settings. Because of the established “lived in” relationship between Rooney and Goldy, the picture feels like a sequel to a film we’ve never seen. Kelly singles out the airport scene, with its many extras. He says it looks like a scene from a big-budget film, and wonders how the production managed to use part of a busy airport for filming. Ron Winston directed many episodes of TV shows, including Hawaii Five-O and The Twilight Zone. His feature films include Banning, starring Robert Wagner, and Don’t Just Stand There, also starring Wagner and co-starring Mary Tyler Moore, who was between gigs on The Dick Van Dyke Show and her self-named sitcom. Winston died at the age of 40. In an interview she gave years after making The Gamblers, Suzy Kendall commented, “Oh, I loved it!”
As a modernization of an old Russian tale, The Gamblers undermines the potential to present a gripping drama of smooth, larcenous types planning the scam of a lifetime. The combination of drama, comedy, and romance doesn’t work, and with little tension, lackluster leads, and weak direction, it’s a dull 93 minutes.
- Dennis Seuling