spoiler=Fleastiff and I are 'on opposites' for the closing scene (this is a spoiler)]I thought the end of the movie capped off the whole botched project. Caan has wronged an Af/Am athlete, so now he must make amends to the Black community by acting out in a Black bar in the most offensive way possible. He contrives to get in a fight and get himself cut up, to show that his real motivation with all this gambling is a desire for self-destructive behavior. Reminiscent of the very awkward way Af/Ams got into movies in those days if you ask me.
I think enough time has elapsed that I can not be too worried about being a spoiler.
Here is my take.
He is a Gambler, but most of all he is a winner.
He is a winner amongst the beasts and beings in the two worlds. He wins using his social and familial relationships, he wins using his relationships with the money men and their goons. Where others would lose limbs, he trods unscathed. The bookie doesn't leave him a little extra for roping in the young black dude, he manipulates the bookie to get that little extra.
He doesn't feel any remorse about roping young black dude into his first points shaving episode, He doesn't feel any guilt or angst about blacks. Its simply this is now a new world for him. He has won in the world of professional gamblers, family members, beautiful women, muscle men ... and now here he is in a new world, a world of young black violence.
so he goes into a bar where everyone in the place is black, everyone in the place has a blade and everyone in the place knows how to use it. And he wins!
He selects a young violent pimp as well as all the black men in the bar. He targets them. And he wins. He forces that pimp to back down and to do it in front of his friends, associates and even his own stable. He wins when he walks all alone and unarmed into a black bar and tells the violent black pimp, "I'm pushing you". He wins when he announces "I'm calling you Boy". He wins when he proclaims "I'm calling you, Nigger".
He wins when he turns self confident, smooth operating violent black Youngblood into quivering mass of pussey who realizes he is going to die because Crazy White Dude is going to win. Crazy White Dude will win if every black man in the bar joins in. Crazy White Dude will win because nothing will stop his attack. Nothing. Crazy White Dude is raw naked power that will overcome all weapons, all numbers and all common sense.
Crazy White Dude may be bloody and foaming and ranting, but in the end Crazy White Dude will be standing there... the winner!
The movie does not show "The Gambler" in a series of losses... it shows him in a series of wins, but mainly it shows him not only playing the game, but choosing to play the game.
No disputing that we have a different take. I didn't change my mind much, but I guess I can see your take. He dares the pimp to kill him, makes him back down, then whips his ass, though he does not walk out in triumph either, what with that injury.
No point in us arguing about it. The clincher for me is the bio on the screenwriter; I just don't believe he would intend that you take away from this movie what you did. I would need a lot of convincing that the protagonist isn't supposed to be viewed as extremely Narcissistic.
I realize now after a second viewing that there is a theme involved with his interacting with Af/Americans. The movie does not treat them sympathetically, so it's making me wonder about the screenwriter that way too. 1974 was high time for a progressive or sympathetic view, and this film does not go there, not at all. Maybe the screenwriter's gambling past contained plenty of mixing with unsavory elements that would not be expected to leave good impressions. Still, something good has come of it, the character [Axel] shows a facility for interacting with Blacks, without patronizing them.
One of the film's first scenes with Af/Am's is at the school where he is teaching a Lit course. The class is fairly disrupted much of the time with an attitude of "being interested in this is acting white". One teenage basketball player in particular is a problem. Axel deals with it pretty well, and his ease with the Black students is evident.
Another early scene is when he pulls over and challenges a Black teenager to a one-on-one basketball contest that he loses - this after going through a losing streak gambling. He is so fired up about it that he puts up $20 if he loses, basically not a bet [like he wanted, the teenagers have no money]. Something's already going on here beyond problem gambling, it's racial, and I'm not sure I get it.
Then there's the point shaving.
He corrupts the basketball playing student with a payoff; his own reward is the elimination of his own debts to the mob
Finally, there's the scene with the pimp and prostitute.
There is also his [not-in-Dostoevsky] Jewish identity that gets played out. His grandfather is wealthy, and he is ultimately the heir. The film doesn't state so explicitly, but no doubt this helps fuel his gambling. Certainly we have all seen people who are expecting such windfall to exhibit bad behavior, spoiled basically, often gamblers. It's a proud family, he is dealing with that. His grandfather at one point calls him a Scholar; yet, seemingly well educated, he teaches at a high school, honorable enough but potentially a problem of image, especially in the absence of ambition to go further. This is there to pick up on, but is not exactly explored. Axel has his mother pull out her life savings [which he gambles] and of course the whole family will soon know of it. He is trying hard to fit into this and is screwing it up.
As some sort of plot device I don't quite get - justification? - Axel near the end pierces the veneer of family respectability by confronting the old man about his own mob connections
I think to enjoy the movie you have to enjoy pondering these elements. I picked up on it better in this second viewing. I was kind of thumbs-down first viewing.
BTW there is casino-style gambling at the very beginning ... an illegal set-up? he would not seem to be in Vegas or AC but where he lives and works, NYC apparently. It's a scene mostly about him owing money [$44k] and being hassled for it. Although in a streak of bad luck, he's trying to "raise" the money by gambling at the table games offered. The really good gambling scenes, where he goes to Vegas, are in the middle of the movie.
"Baccarat is a game whereby the croupier gathers in money with a flexible sculling oar, then rakes it home. If I could have borrowed his oar I would have stayed." .......... Mark Twain
He dares the pimp to kill him, makes him back down, then whips his ass, though he does not walk out in triumph either, what with that injury.
Making the pimp back down is the victory... and it wasn't the pimp that gave him that injury.
> that the protagonist isn't supposed to be viewed as extremely Narcissistic. A Narcissistic WINNER.
> He corrupts the basketball playing student with a payoff Yep, kicking and screaming and holding up his Bible as a futile defense against the Gambler's cash. He uses the black athlete the same way he used the black pick-up players. Convenience.
> casino-style gambling at the very beginning ... an illegal set-up? There was an illegal casino in Brooklyn for 20 years and an illegal casino in Murray Hill area of Manhattan for six years.
A film tour of Las Vegas establishment shots but most casino interior scenes were filmed in New Orleans.
Storyline: Nick Wiley is a security expert working out of a desk in a sleasy law office in Vegas. We see him taking care of a few clients: an attractive young woman invited to a party who finds out she is the party for a mobster and his two tough guy bodyguards; a young insecure man who made 70MM before he was nineteen, a socially insecure man who wants to fake a fight to impress his 'cash-register hearted' girl friend. Nick's shtck: He don't never use a gun; he don't never need one. His other call to fame: he gambles big time and he always loses.