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Two-Dollar Bettor

Posted by martinteller on March 23, 2014

John Hewitt (John Litel) is a banking executive, a widower raising his two teenaged daughters Dee (Barbara Bestar) and Nancy (Barbara Logan).  His family is the most important thing to him, and he maintains close connections to his mother-in-law Sarah (Kay Lavelle) and brother-in-law George (Don Shelton).  One day John goes to the racetrack at the invitation of some friends.  John never wagered on a horse in his life, but he places a $2 bet… and wins.  Then he wins again, and now he has enough for a down payment on a brand new car for his girls.  John believes he’s hit on a talented jockey, and starts placing bigger and bigger bets, even going to a bookie.  And then the jockey gets injured, and John starts losing.  He goes through his savings, cashes in his war bonds… and embezzles funds.  Now he’s deep in a hole.  But Mary (Marie Windsor) — the woman who acts as the go-between with the bookie — has an idea to get him out.

Not the most thrilling of noirs, but it’s pretty watchable.  The hokey home life of the Hewitt household provides some humor, both intentional and unintentional (square dancing!).  The downward spiral is predictable but still gripping… you can’t help wanting this poor sucker to turn out okay.  The most unusual thing about the movie is that the highest-billed actor doesn’t even appear until the final 15 minutes.  Steve Brodie plays Windsor’s partner in hustling, and you don’t even know he exists until a couple minutes before he shows up.  I mostly wanted to watch this film for Windsor herself.  This isn’t one of her best roles by a longshot, but she’s pretty good at giving Litel the sympathetic ear while sharpening the knife for his back.

The movie isn’t as heavy-handed in its proselytizing about the evils of gambling as it could be, although it’s not exactly subtle either.  It also doesn’t get particularly noir-ish until the third act, when things get especially desperate for Hewitt.  Still, it’s a decent yarn with a likeable performance by Litel.  I liked it a bit better than Edward Cahn’s more celebrated Destination Murder, though perhaps I was too critical of that one the first time around.  A couple of smaller roles worth noting: Barbara “Mrs. Cleaver” Billingsley plays Litel’s secretary, and “Alfalfa” himself, Carl Switzer (also known for his small part in It’s a Wonderful Life) shows up as one of the daughter’s goofy young suitors.  Rating: Fair (64)

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2 Responses to “Two-Dollar Bettor”

  1. john dunbar said

    This film is an interesting complexity; it details the risks and potential evils of compulsive gambling but in the end the victim doesn’t succumb to them because at the last minute the film introduces a personal savior, in the form of his boss, who distorts the truth to police about how and why he killed his tormentors. It is a strange ending because the Hollywood Production Code has stipulated that films should never supply the message that `crime pays’. Here, at least, the message is that crime doesn’t necessarily hurt. Still, the film is more than watchable thanks to the excellent acting of a great cast and the suspense played out as the film unwinds about how it will all turn out.

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