Saturday, October 4, 2014

THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY (Patrick Jenkins & Sam Newfield, 1953)

Now this is film noir! The opening sequence shows a man bleeding from a gunshot wound stumbling down a dark alley. As he steps out into the street a pair of headlights speeds towards him and he’s run down. As the title splashes across the screen and the music reaches a crescendo we are utterly on the edge of our seats wanting to learn about this man and why someone wanted to kill him! Co-Director Sam Newfield is a veteran of the American B-movies and it’s most likely his influence that infuses this story with it gritty noir style.
The plot is rather interesting especially for a Film Noir: it’s about American gangster Jim Forrester seeking to quit his life of crime and be accepted in British High-Society. Of course, this will lead to his downfall when he sells his small gambling empire and is himself defrauded by a rich man’s racket. One of the underlying themes of the story is that the wealthy are as crooked (maybe more so) than the hard working gangsters who pulled themselves out of the gutter.
Forrester is dating the dancer in one of his nightclubs who becomes jealous when he falls for a Socialite. Lady Susan Wells turns out to be a decent loving person and is the one who rescues Forrester at the end while it’s the dancer who runs him down in a rage! But the plot turns on a fired henchman who is hired by the competition after Forrester loses his temper and beats him up because he didn’t follow orders. This guy’s vendetta leads to a nasty shootout in the final act. This causes Forrester’s wounds and his trek down a dark alley which brings the story full circle.
Once again, the British perspective transforms the genre into something unique: Forrester, though a man who operates outside of the law is the protagonist and is presented as a flawed but honest and loyal boss. One scene shows him being tutored in British table manners and dinner etiquette and his clumsiness and American accent makes it both funny and a bit embarrassing. Another scene at his nightclub shows Forrester trying to “speak the language” of the Socialites who are celebrating a birthday and it’s uncomfortable to watch him struggle to fit in and be patronized by these elitists. Lady Susan admonishes her friends and brother for their condescending behavior and she soon becomes the love interest. The entire cast is excellent from American actor Dane Clark to the sniveling henchman who betrays his boss (focusing Peter Lorre). The final scene of Forrester’s loyal friend carrying his unconscious body carries some emotional weight.  
Shootouts and barroom brawls to learning which is the proper glass to pour champagne, THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY is an entertaining marriage of British mores and American morbidities.

Final Grade: (B-) 

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