Tuesday, March 8, 2011

'The Gambler and the Lady' is worth a chance

The Gambler and the Lady (1952)
Starring: Dane Clark, Naomi Chance, Meredith Edwards, Kathleen Byron, and Erich Pohlmann
Director: Sam Newfield, Patrick Jenkins and Terence Fisher
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An American hood living in London (Clark) wants more than to just be the guy who made his fortune owning popular night clubs and running successful after-hours gambling parlors... he wants to accepted among the circle of the British ruling class the admires so much. When he befriends the beautiful and truly noble-in-spirit Lady Susan (Chance), it appears his dream may come true. But will gangsters trying to take over his businesses, bitter ex-employees, and his own naive belief that the British upper class is inherently more honest and decent than men of the street like himself conspire to destroy him first?

"The Gambler and a Lady" unfolds like a Greek tragedy, with everyone around Jim Forster, the American street tough turned die-hard Anglophile, warning him that the upper-crust is not a place for him, nor are those who are already there the kind of people he imagines. But, like all tragic heroes, Jim forges ahead, pursuing his hopes and dreams... and ultimately dooming himself and everyone and everything he ever cared about. The end of the film is its starting point, but even if it wasn't, it is no surprise that Jim comes to a sad end, nor how he got there; each step that he thinks leads him closer to his dream turns out in the end to be another factor in his downfall and only Jim is blind to this fact until it's too late.

Although Dane Clark will never be enshrined among history's great actors, he had a real knack for portraying Everyman and tough guys with soft interiors, both of which made him perfect for the role in "The Gambler and the Lady". In the hands of a lesser actor, or a more handsome one, the character of Jim could easily have come across as pathetic rather than sympathetic. While the entire cast is good in their parts--as is the case with most of these black-and-white Hammer crime dramas given that we see the same supporting actors over and over again--it really is Cook who makes the movie.

"The Gambler and the Lady" was reportedly shot in less than a month, and with a configuration of three directors in order to allow American writer/director Sam Newfield to help the project without drawing flak from the British labor unions, but any production difficulties aren't to be seen in the final product. It's a fast-paced, interesting and compelling drama that features more action than is the norm for Hammer's black-and-white thrillers and it easily ranks among the best of the films born from the partnership between the English studio and American B-movie producer Robert Lippert.

This is a movie that doesn't deserve the obscurity it has languished in for the past many decades. It's worth checking out for anyone who enjoys classic movies.