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The Lady Gambles

Posted by martinteller on June 23, 2013

Joan and David Boothe (Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Preston) are both Chicago reporters, in Las Vegas for their stories.  David is writing a piece on the Hoover Dam.  Joan is working on something about the casinos.  But Joan opens Pandora’s box when she starts gambling herself with the couple’s expense fund.  Realizing that his wife has a serious problem, David takes her away from Las Vegas — and the influence of her overbearing, clingy sister Ruth (Edith Barrett) — to Mexico, where she can help him finish his book away from the lure of the roulette wheel and the poker table.  But there’s always a craps game going on somewhere, and eventually David leaves his wife to fend for herself.  Joan returns to Las Vegas and partners with casino owner Corrigan (Stephen McNally) in a horse track, going further down the road to ruin.

Not a whole lot to say about this one.  It’s a fairly routine addiction flick with a rather predictable arc of decline.  The film does open with a hell of a sequence, where Stanwyck is caught using loaded dice in a back alley craps game and gets pummeled by hoods.  It’s the most brutal, noir-esque sequence in a movie that’s otherwise more in the realm of “near noir”.  The rest of the story plays out in flashback as Preston tries to convince a doctor to release her for treatment of her addiction instead of putting her in jail (why would this be a doctor’s decision?).

Stanwyck elevates even the most ordinary of material, however, and although her performance here isn’t nearly as iconic or memorable as Double Indemnity, she completely sells the role.  Even in some of the hokier “Why is this happening to me?” scenes, there’s a genuineness to her portrayal of an addict.  The lowest point is the climax, where at Joan’s most desperate hour the film resorts to a pile of easy psychology to explain her problem.  To the story’s credit, the film doesn’t go so far as to indicate that her gambling addiction is completely cured.  One interesting facet is that the film points out how even the sleazy crooks behind the gambling racket don’t want anything to do with an addict.

Overall, it’s an average movie that does just enough to explore the dark side of gambling to make it worthwhile, especially for fans of Babs.  The stylization is only occasionally impressive and the film won’t satisfy a noir craving that much (director Michael Gordon did better on that front with The Web), but it’s a reasonably engaging watch.  Rating: Good (71)


One Response to “The Lady Gambles”

  1. […] Just to help you out a bit, this film, Gambling Lady (1934) starring Barbara Stanwyck, has nothing to do with The Lady Gambles (1949) starring Barbara Stanwyck. The latter is a neo-noir about a journalist woman with a gambling addiction which bears no connection to this one; here is Martin Teller’s review of it. […]

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