The Lady Gambles (1949)

Directed by Michael Gordon
Cinematography Russell Metty

When Joan Boothe accompanies husband-reporter David to Las Vegas, she begins gambling to pass the time while he is doing a story. Encouraged by the casino manager, she gets hooked on gambling, to the point where she “borrows” David’s expense money to pursue her addiction. This finally breaks up their marriage, but David continues trying to help her.

this was like a horror story to watch

18 August 2002 | by bengleson (British Columbia) – See all my reviews

The first half of this depressing look at the addiction of gambling gave me the willies. The insidious descent of Stanwyck’s character from placid, guilt-ridden housewife (who may have once had a career) into a card-playing, dice rolling junkie is too painful to watch. But I did.

The second half, especially the feeble attempt to recover, only to fall off the wagon, was predictable. Stanwyck is usually a powerhouse of an actress and would have been better served with a less smarmy ending. Still, the scenes of Vegas were enjoyable. I wouldn’t hesitate to put this on a double bill with Reefer Madness. Through the windows of time, one cannot help to jump to the conclusion that they have some similarities. Other addiction movies, e.g. The Lost Weekend, warm the heart as well. There should be an addictions film festival. There probably is, right?

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Stanwyck redeems early peek into Vegas’ temptations

7/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
1 May 2001

Stanwyck’s was a curious career. The highest-paid woman in pictures — actually, in America — for a while, she made her share of workaday, forgettable pictures. The Lady Gambles is among them, except that it stars Stanwyck. Married to Robert Preston, a reporter doing a feature on Las Vegas, she agrees to help out by getting in on the action. Soon, she’s hooked, playing recklessly and compulsively even as her marriage is disintegrating. There’s one brutal scene when she’s beaten up by thugs in an alley — not a scene often filmed with a top actress as victim. The film has a historical interest as one of the first to be set in that new Babylon in the desert, Las Vegas. (In the 30s, the only Nevada location was Reno; Vegas was still a chicken run.) Despite its semi-documentary approach, The Lady Gambles sustains interest; as a look at abnormal gambling, it’s better than Gambling House (with Victor Mature) or The Las Vegas Story (with Mitchum and Jane Russell).

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A Hidden Masterpiece!

8/10
Author: kalendjay from United States
17 March 2012

Despite some of the reviews here that characterize TLG as trite and dated, I only thought this film was a directorial surprise, way ahead of its time for 1949.

First you start with a flashback by Preston’s character that isn’t quite a flashback, because we are more interested in who this man is and what the circumstances of his plight are, than the past per se. Virtually all Hollywood flashbacks seem to involve some grand police confession or some need to explain the confessor (such as “D.O.A.”)but the flashback here seems to add to the convolutedness of the characters, and the surrealism of the situation. Does Preston really understand his wife? If so when? The flashback reminds us that there is more to explain than the “what”,but also the “why” which neither Preston nor the audience yet understand (gambling is a disease, but the matter of guilt and personal responsibility for misdeeds remain open).

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More convolutedness in the photography. Carefully cropped chest-up body shots, with swirling camera movements amid authentic but claustrophobic interiors. Remember, only Max Ophuls was supposed to have done this sort of thing at the time! I remember “Leaving Las Vegas” attempted the same themes in slightly different ways (misery and anomie in a spectacular setting) but that was a miserable film.

Finally you have a not so sweet resolution to depict insanity, but in a much subtler way than “The Snake Pit” and other entries in the growing body of ‘social consciousness’ films. Stanwyck was a tough-soft actress, and the scenes where she rolls before a throng a gamblers rarely came tougher in her films. A work to just watch.

“Kiss ’em for Me Baby”

5/10
Author: HarlowMGM from United States
14 August 2007

Barbara Stanwyck is surely one of the greatest actresses ever in motion pictures but THE LADY GAMBLES is one of her lesser works despite a sincere, empathic performance by the star. This movie seems to want to be the gambling version of THE LOST WEEKEND but it’s more like the lost 100 minutes , the time the viewer wastes watching this picture. Even the charismatic Stanwyck can’t prevent this heavy-handed drama from being a chore to watch.

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Stanwyck stars as the wife of newspaper journalist Robert Preston. They are in Las Vegas while he covers a story. Stanwyck decides to try to do an article herself on the gambling scene but her somewhat indiscreet camera work catches the eye of casino manager Stephen McNally who decides to let her play with valueless chips so she can be at the tables for her research. Trouble is Stanwyck finds she likes the tables a little too much and when McNally decides to put a plug in the playing for nothing, she dives into Preston’s expense account and loses it all in a night. McNally, clearly attracted to Stanwyck from first sight, gives her $50 to play with out of pity after she has even hawked her expensive Swiss camera and being the good player she is Stanwyck actually wins her money back. But the lure of the tables is too strong and she keeps going back. And back. And losing.

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Ultimately destroying her marriage, she eventually joins forces with McNally in some of his questionably legal activities and later hits earthier lows in pursuit of lady luck where one seedy guy after another tells her to “kiss ’em for me baby” as she rolls the dice.

The movie is told in flashback as Stanwyck is hospitalized having been beat up by gamblers when she is caught dealing in a back alley crap game with loaded dice. Estranged husband Preston rushes to her side and tells the doctor the whole sad story.

The usually dependable Preston is one of the weakest links in the film; his character is alternately a milquetoast and a control freak but is at all times presented as Stanwyck’s prince charming. Preston’s performance is no help either, his rather theatrical delivery seems inappropriate for this attempt at “slice of life” drama; worse, in an amazingly unwise decision he speaks to the doctor in anguished troubled tones and then his narration over the past scenes is spoken with enthusiasm and dramatic flair! Stephen McNally fares much better as the intimidating Vegas big shot, his scenes with Stanwyck have considerable bite and are the film’s highlight.

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The worst thing about the film is the jaw-dropping pop psychology that attempts to explain away Stanwyck’s gambling. It’s because of her possessive older sister Edith Barrett!!! With her mother dying during childbirth, Stanwyck was “raised” by older (eight years, although Barrett was actually just six months older than Stanwyck) sister who has never let Barbara forget the sacrifices in her personal life she has made for her. Hero Preston seems frankly as controlling but since he is her husband, presumably that’s OK with the screenwriters. The sister-is-the-root theory is interesting considering (A) Preston is hostile to the sister and her relationship with Barbara long before the gambling starts, (B) the gambling doesn’t even start until Stanwyck is clearly into her thirties and (C) the sister is no where around to cause anxiety when most of the gambling binges occur!! But then what can you expect of reason from a film where a doctor attempts reverse psychology, encouraging a patient on a building ledge to jump!!

Barbara Stanwyck is always worth watching, her progression from dabbler to desperate is quite credible but even her solid work here can’t save a movie that plays like a 1940’s version of a 1970’s half-baked “social issue” TV movie. Two stars going in opposite directions are also in the cast: newcomer Tony Curtis has an early bit part as a bellhop and 30’s leading man Leif Erickson can be seen in a small role as one of McNally’s questionable cohorts. Is this picture worth checking out? Well, it’s your gamble.

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She lost her mind over the crap tables.

7/10
Author: mark.waltz from United States
6 April 2016
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Barbara Stanwyck follows up her last Oscar-nominated performance in “Sorry, Wrong Number” with even a better performance. As a woman who suddenly finds herself addicted to gambling and unable to stop, she really tears the emotions out of the issues of this character, showing many lost weekends and even weekdays as she loses, wins it all back again, loses some more, and ultimately faces a battle for her life when she gets in too deep.

Her husband, played by the future Music Man himself, Robert Preston, blames it on himself at first and eventually can’t take anymore, giving her half of his savings so she can gamble it all away and so he can go on with his life. An excellent performance by stage actress Edith Barrett helps to explain Stanwyck’s addictive personality. Playing her older sister, Barrett’s resentment toward Stanwyck taking over her childhood are unleashed in a single emotional scene where the possessive and demanding Barrett reveals her true colors after having seemed so kindly when first introduced. Film Noir veteran Stephen McNally is excellent as the Vegas gambling casino owner who first encounters Stanwyck when she is accused of staking his joint. A ton of bit performers, both elegant and vile, become temporary enablers for Stanwyck’s addiction.

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Unlike Ray Milland’s drunk in “The Lost Weekend”, Stanwyck’s mornings after are not filled with hangovers, only the desperation to start all over again. This is social drama at its most intense, starting with her being brutally beaten up. It all gets overly dramatic and intense at times, and while the lights of Vegas may seem beautiful, they are her pathways to hell. Stanwyck deserved another Oscar Nomination for this, but perhaps it was too hard for some Academy members to stomach. It was a brave role for her to take on, yet it has never made it into any of the many tributes I’ve seen of hers. But it ranks as an amazingly tough melodrama that is equally as engrossing as another tough dame’s trek into despair: Susan Hayward in “Smash- Up”.

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She certainly does

6/10
Author: Alex da Silva from United Kingdom
19 June 2013

Robert Preston (David) tracks down his wife Barbara Stanwyck (Joan) in hospital after she has been beaten up. He pleas with John Hoyt (Dr Rojac) to let her go home with him after she has been treated rather than hand her over to the police where she has several outstanding charges. In flashback, we watch the story of her descent into gambling addiction after a visit to Las Vegas.

The film is interesting to watch for the location settings. I actually bought it specifically for the Las Vegas setting as it is where I got married earlier this year and I wanted to make a comparison with 1949. The story was incidental. As it turns out, the story is OK if predictable. Stanwyck carries the film with good support from gangster Stephen McNally (Mr Corrigan). Robert Preston changes his tune during the course of the film as he swings from rejecting her to accepting her while the role of Stanwyck’s sister Edith Barrett (Ruth) is pretty annoying and some sentimental pop psychology is dragged into the proceedings.

I’m sure that the inspiration behind the Las Vegas section of the film was Bugsy Siegel and his Flamingo Hotel which paved the way for the notoriety of the Strip. The main body of the film is set in the Pelican Hotel (a bit similar?) and McNally has an interest in a horse racing scam just as Bugsy did.

The film ends in a disappointingly corny way after a funny moment when John Hoyt shows us what to say to someone when they are about to jump off a window ledge. I dare you to try it some day! As for the film’s climax, we have to hopefully imagine that everything will go downhill again once they return to Vegas and hit the casinos.

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