Gambling on Film
Gambling and poker have been featured in a number of films dating back as early as the 1930’s. Children of that era remember watching the adventures of the Western hero, Hopalong Cassidy, at Saturday afternoon matinees. The film, Sunset Trail, features Hopalong starring as a city slicker from the East. When Keller, the bad guy, buys a farmer’s cattle, kills him, and steals the money, our hero is determined to catch the thief. He tries his hand at the poker table where he takes Keller’s money and with the help of the farmer’s daughter is able to match the serial numbers to the stolen cash. In the end, gambling has paid off in a triumph of good over evil.
Mel Gibson stars in the film Maverick, produced in 1994, based on the original Western TV series with James Garner in the 1950’s. The movie has its comical moments, some romance, and several scenes at the poker table with Gibson and Jodie Foster. Both play their parts as con artists well and with some card playing tricks of their own, manage to win the $3,000 needed for the big Winner Take All poker game.
The Cincinnati Kid, made in 1965, is a film about a promising young poker player in New Orleans who wants to make a name for himself. He enters a high stakes tournament against the best poker player in the city, known simply as “the Man.” Refusing the backing of a notorious gangster, the Cincinnati Kid thinks he can do it on his own. The Kid, stunned when he fails to win the poker game, is completely unaware that the dealer has rigged the game.
The Rounders, well known in the world of poker for its real-life portrayal of gambling and the popular poker game of Texas Hold’em, is probably one of the best gambling films ever made. The movie, produced in 1998, depicts the lives of the rounders, people who make a living solely from playing cards. Matt Damon, a gambler, has tried several times to stop playing poker, but is ultimately convinced by his friend “Worm” Norton to help him pay off a huge gambling debt. In one exciting scene, Matt uses his poker playing skills in a winning hand against the legendary Johnny Chan himself. The movie is action packed, with gambling and poker from Atlantic City to upstate New York. In the end, Damon wins enough to pay off Worm’s debt, pockets $30,000 for himself, and heads for Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker.
The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, is a gambling film about mobsters, crooked cops, and federal agents in Chicago during the 1930’s. This is Chicago in the midst of the depression, gambling, booze, crime, and gangster scams or stings. An exciting gambling scene in the film features Newman, playing the part of a drunk, in a high stakes poker game against Lonnegan, the mob’s kingpin. Newman as Henry Gondorff has a few card tricks of his own and manages to defeat Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), the card shark, at his own game.
The Gambler, played by Kenny Rogers as Brady Hawkes, is remembered for the gambling scenes and for the familiar lyrics of the title song. There are some good poker scenes featuring Brady as a shrewd poker player from Yuma, Arizona, who journeys to another town to help his son. He forms a bond with Billy Montana, a poker player by trade, and the two join up to play poker in saloons along the way. A long-running TV mini-series, based upon the original film, followed the further adventures of the gambler from California to Mexico and Texas to South America.
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