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Best Loved Gamblers from the Big Screen

by Jason Smith

Best Loved Gamblers from the Big Screen

Lucky at cards, unlucky in love. It’s just one of a dozen idioms out of Hollywood that has given us a somewhat jaundiced view of gambling. Yet for many of us, the notion of casino gaming conjures images from the big screen. Here, we take an affectionate walk down memory lane to meet some of the movie world’s legendary gamblers. Their actions might not always have stood up to scrutiny as being entirely realistic, but there’s no denying they were memorable.

James Bond

How could we start anywhere else? There are plenty of fictional gamblers out there, but this one has transcended seven legendary movie actors – and counting. In 1962, we met Bond in the opening scene of Dr No at the card table. Since then, the casino has been a constant feature, whether as an essential plot element as it was in Casino Royale or for some moments of light entertainment, for example the comedically violent scene at the roulette wheel in Diamonds are Forever.

Henry Godorff

Almost 50 years after its release, The Sting remains the caper movie against which all other caper movies are measured – and fall short. The entire story is about gambling, but it is the opening sequence on the train, in which Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman, out-cheats crime kingpin Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) that everyone remembers best. It’s also how Gondorff sets the bait for the “big con” that forms the movie’s main act. Pure movie magic.

Danny Ocean

If any movie has come close to matching The Sting, it is Ocean’s Eleven. It’s very much in the same mold, being a caper movie with gambling as its central theme, but this time, the action takes place in Las Vegas. George Clooney’s Danny Ocean is central to the plot but also to selling the incredibly convoluted heist to us as viewers. Here’s a man who has grown up in Sin City. He knows all the moves of a grifter twice his age, yet has the charm and affability to seem right in place with the high rollers.

Raymond Babbitt

Something of a departure here, as the casino scene in Rain Man is only brief. However, it is crucial to the development of the relationship between Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and his brother (Tom Cruise). Raymond’s high-functioning autism gives the brothers an edge at the blackjack table that soon attracts the attention of casino management. The representation of how card counting works is fanciful, to put it mildly, but if you want realism, seek out a documentary, not a Hollywood blockbuster!

Bret Maverick

Those of us of a certain age first saw gambling on the big screen in the form of poker games in the Wild West saloons. Maverick takes us back to that era. Mel Gibson perfectly captures the essence of the poker playing drifter who just wants to prove he’s the best card player in the west – and of course, to get the girl. It’s the ultimate comfort viewing on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.

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