This was not the first time director Karoly Makk made successful use of a distinguished elderly actress. In his 1971 "Love" Makk used Lili Darvas, who like Luise Rainer was a star of the Max Reinhardt theater troupe. Also like Rainer, Darvas married a famous playwright, Ferenc Molnar. (Rainer was married for a while to Clifford Odets.) See more »
(at around 32 mins) In the story-within-a-story supposedly being written by Dostoevsky in 1866, a woman says, "Would you like to play canasta, General?" Canasta was not invented until 1939, some 58 years after Dostoevsky's death. See more »
Forget Travolta, forget Burt Reynolds, forget Robert Forster...this is the real comeback
Luise Rainer more or less vanished after winning a couple of Oscars for Louis B. Mayer in the thirties. My biographical snooping doesn't yield much in the way of clues, but it seems likely that, Louise Brooks-like, Rainer had simply had it with the movie colony. She has been plucked out of retirement only on brief occasions since the end of the Second World War, but never so spectacularly as in Karoly Makk's adaptation of Dostoevsky's THE GAMBLER.
As the antihero's dowager-empress grandma, Rainer has two big scenes: they're all about the strange, giddy, self-annihilating glee the old bat experiences discovering what the fun of roulette is all about. Rainer looks and feels like a jaunty, no-cares twenty-five-year-old girl in old-age makeup. (This performance may, for all I know, be a Bowfinger-like stunt by Angelina Jolie.) Rainer, who came into pictures just as sound came in, has a post-Stanislavskian snap that you can't explain. She should be paraded across the screen like a bull elephant, as with Gloria Stuart in TITANIC or James Cagney in RAGTIME, but she gives an electrifying performance. You can feel the audience come alive every minute her face fills the screen.
The rest of this threadbare period piece is ruins. At a curt but not brisk 97 minutes, the movie seems to have been hacked down to cable-softcore-movie length by the front office. Karoly Makk gets special dispensation for that crime, but in honesty it doesn't look as if there were much here in the first place. The movie details the 27 days in which Dostoevsky had to write THE GAMBLER or lose all rights to his future work, and it manages to convey exactly nothing about obsession, creation, lust, destitution, joy, connivance, religiosity, or gambling. (It does scarcely better with epilepsy and foot fetishism.) Michael Gambon, a hangdog piece of British baggage who gave great performances in the works of Peter Greenaway and Dennis Potter, gives a stagy, self-absorbed performance as Dostoevsky. The other non-Rainer personnel fare scarcely better--except for a couple of weirdly out-of-place Page Six hotties who seem contrived to be a duet of existential Spice Girls.
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