Monday, February 15, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Lady Gambles (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Barbara Stanwyck stars in THE LADY GAMBLES (1949), part of the Dark Side of Cinema III Collection from Kino Lorber.

The set was released last summer, and I've previously reviewed the other films in the collection, ABANDONED (1949) and THE SLEEPING CITY (1950).  As with last weekend's review of THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951) from the second set in the series, I'm now circling back to review the final film in the box.  Hopefully these reviews will also serve to remind anyone who hasn't already added these sets to their collections that they contain some very entertaining viewing.

In THE LADY GAMBLES Stanwyck plays Joan Boothe, who as the movie opens is taking part in a seedy back alley dice game which ends with her being severely beaten.

When Joan arrives at the hospital she happens to be spotted by her estranged husband David (Robert Preston), a police detective.  Upon recovery Joan is due to be charged with a number of crimes, including, it's implied, prostitution.  David begs an apathetic doctor (John Hoyt) to provide Joan with proper psychiatric care and keep her out of jail.

In a pair of flashback sequences David describes how Joan initially became hooked on gambling during a visit to Las Vegas, as well as her codependent relationship with her manipulative, controlling older sister Ruthie (Edith Barrett).

In a very short time Joan became so destructively hooked on gambling that it ended their marriage, and Joan's current hospitalization may be her last hope.

I had a feeling, based on the storyline, that this one would be hard to watch, and I was correct.  The film has a fine cast, which also includes Stephen McNally as a casino owner, and I had hopes that the actors, director Michael Gordon (THE WEB), and the screenplay by Roy Huggins (MAVERICK, THE ROCKFORD FILES) would make the plotline more palatable than anticipated.  I was disappointed in that regard.  

Let's face it, it's hard to watch someone spiral into hopeless addiction for 99 minutes, in a continual state of panic and willing to do increasingly desperate things as money disappears.  There is a ray of hope at the end, just barely, but that's probably the most realistic ending.

The performances are all fine, although Preston is the film's only sympathetic character.  Even the doctor he talks to is more than a bit of a sleaze!  

There was one bright moment, when Mr. Corrigan (McNally) tells Joan and her sister he never lets anyone call him by his first name, and then confesses it's Horace, which reaps gales of laughter.  The joke, for those in the know, is that was Stephen McNally's real first name, which he acted under until 1946.  McNally isn't sympathetic but does bring some good energy to the role.

There are some nice locations filmed by Russell Metty, along with some great stock footage of neon Las Vegas signs, but that's about it.  If you want to watch a depressing movie, this is the film for you!  What a contrast with the uplifting ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), also seen this weekend.

I have enjoyed the other two films in this set multiple times and especially love ABANDONED, so I recommend the collection even though this particular film didn't work for me.  Perhaps hardier souls will appreciate THE LADY GAMBLES more than I did, as it's well made.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray looks great.  The disc includes a trailer gallery for three additional films available from Kino Lorber and a commentary track by Kat Ellinger.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Not to be confused with GAMBLING LADY that Stanwyck made in 1934! :) Jane

5:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Great reminder! GAMBLING LADY costarring the wonderful Joel McCrea, plus Pat O'Brien. :)

Best wishes,

5:54 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

It IS quite a hard watch, Laura, I agree. Yet I thought it was a very good film that, for its time, was very downbeat and succeeded in portraying the sad and destructive outcome of addiction. McNally again showing what a fine character actor he was.

12:21 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Totally agree with your fine review Laura, and I would have avoided this one were it not for the other two excellent films in the set,2 out of three is not bad. The film for me is mildly intriguing and I thought there was more chemistry between Stanwyck and McNally than her and Preston.The Kat Ellinger commentary is another plus,I enjoyed listening to it. For me the film is more melodrama than Noir and the constant shift in locations/settings helps.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry and John! Thanks to each of you for your thoughts.

I agree, McNally brought a lot of energy to the film and he was definitely more interesting than Preston.

Jerry, I think this was sort of THE LOST WEEKEND of gambling!

John, I haven't listened to the commentary track yet (so many commentary tracks, so little time! LOL) -- thanks for mentioning it. Good point also that it's more melodrama than noir.

Always great to hear from you both!

Best wishes,

3:44 PM  

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