Winner Take All (1975 TV Movie)
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What lends great conviction to the production is the absolutely normal personality Miss Jones projects as the protagonist. Gambling addicts are not wild eyed and sinister looking psychopaths, and it is therefore entirely appropriate that Miss Jones' character is an attractive, charming, and thoroughly upstanding seeming character. And therein lies the rub...all of which allows her to so convincingly "take in" so many others, not the least of which is her husband, (Laurence Luckinbill) from whom she has appropriated (and lost) $30,000. Most of all, she has deceived herself.
Even the cut rate conventions of TV movie production work to this movie's benefit. By shooting the movie mainly within the confines of actual suburban split level homes, hotel rooms, pawn shops, and gambling casinos, the production achieves an almost documentary veracity.
Also working much in its favor is a superb performance from Sam Groom as a sleazy back room spiv, as well as welcome cameos from screen greats Sylvia Sidney and Joan Blondell.
Having already ruined her first marriage Eleanor "Elie" Anderson, Shirley Jones, has kept her addiction to gambling from her second husband Bill,Laureance Luckinbill, a widower with a 12 year old daughter Stacy, Lorie Busk. It's when Elie got involved in a card game at a local gambling den and lost $750.00 that her trying to keep her gambling habit in check fell completely apart.
Desperately wanting to win back her money Elie went back to her previous life of a compulsive gambler and in no time at all destroyed not only her life but that of Bill's, who's $30,000.00 in saving she squandered away, as well as her step-daughter Stacy future of having a two parent family.
We first get to see Elie at the beginning of the movie addressing a group of people like herself at an G.A, Gamblers Anonymous, meeting spilling her heart out about how gambling, and her inability to control it, put her in the fix that she finds herself in now. We soon get to see how Elie slowly got herself wasted, financially and emotionally, by going back to the evils that she, after getting married to Bill, tried to put behind her and had now ruined her, and her family's, life.
Shirley Jones' performance as the helpless Elie Anderson is about as good a performance of a compulsive gambler that I've see in any major Hollywood production on the subject. We see Elie's life spiral down in flames as she goes through her husbands savings going into enormous dept to the bookies and loan-sharks and eventually ending up trying to pay her debt off by hocking the family jewels. As a final insult Elie ends up putting out, after paying him back the money that she owes him, to the sleazy loan-shark Rick Santo, Sam Groom, who built up her confidence by giving her worthless tips at he racetrack that he knew were fake. It was Satno who by egging her on got Elie to write out a number of worthless and fraudulent checks that if cashed, by Santo, could put her behind bars.
Bill who had no idea of his wife's Elie's addiction found out the hard way, by the bank telling him that his account was zeroed out, what she was doing behind his back. This as he was about to start up a business with the cash, $30,000.00, that he entrusted her with! Like all gamblers Elie did have her share of luck at both the racetrack and gambling, both legal and illegal,joints but as expected she blew her hard won money that would have paid back all her debts and restored her husbands Bill's saving account. Elie did that by her gambling it away in her wanting more and instead ending up losing it all.
Hard to find made for TV movie that's more then worth the effort of spending a hours time at a local DVD bargain bin that shows how compulsive gambling has ruined many a person, like Elie Anderson, who falls prey to it.
One of the main, and longest parts of the movie concerns a series of covert bets she makes, over a period of six months, with the $30,000 in her new husband's savings account. There was a 30-40 minute section of the movie when we are on pins and needles, waiting for her husband to find out. I thought this movie was going to end in a bloody scene such as in Finding Mr. Goodbar. I was very relieved and surprised when Elanor's husband reacts with love instead of hate, understanding instead of revenge. The substantial and valuable nature of this direction of the plot re-inforces my belief that this movie deserved more character development, as I was tempted to view the inner directives, values and challenges of the people involved. Shirley's performance and presence saves what is a somewhat, but not wholly disappointing plot.