The Lady Gambles (1949) Poster

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Barbara Stanwyck was very versatile
nickandrew13 August 2001
It is very evident that Barbara Stanwyck was able to adapt to any sort of role or character in each of her pictures. In this one, she plays a businessman's wife who becomes addicted to gambling after a trip to Las Vegas. This isn't a bad character study, and probably one of the earliest ones dealing with this sort of obsession. It is also interesting to see how the Vegas strip looked in over 50 years ago. A young, unknown Tony Curtis has a cameo as a bell boy.
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A Hidden Masterpiece!
kalendjay17 March 2012
Despite some of the reviews here that characterize TLG as trite and dated, I only thought this film was a directorial surprise, way ahead of its time for 1949.

First you start with a flashback by Preston's character that isn't quite a flashback, because we are more interested in who this man is and what the circumstances of his plight are, than the past per se. Virtually all Hollywood flashbacks seem to involve some grand police confession or some need to explain the confessor (such as "D.O.A.")but the flashback here seems to add to the convolutedness of the characters, and the surrealism of the situation. Does Preston really understand his wife? If so when? The flashback reminds us that there is more to explain than the "what",but also the "why" which neither Preston nor the audience yet understand (gambling is a disease, but the matter of guilt and personal responsibility for misdeeds remain open).

More convolutedness in the photography. Carefully cropped chest-up body shots, with swirling camera movements amid authentic but claustrophobic interiors. Remember, only Max Ophuls was supposed to have done this sort of thing at the time! I remember "Leaving Las Vegas" attempted the same themes in slightly different ways (misery and anomie in a spectacular setting) but that was a miserable film.

Finally you have a not so sweet resolution to depict insanity, but in a much subtler way than "The Snake Pit" and other entries in the growing body of 'social consciousness' films. Stanwyck was a tough-soft actress, and the scenes where she rolls before a throng a gamblers rarely came tougher in her films. A work to just watch.
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Stanwyck redeems early peek into Vegas' temptations
bmacv1 May 2001
Stanwyck's was a curious career. The highest-paid woman in pictures -- actually, in America -- for a while, she made her share of workaday, forgettable pictures. The Lady Gambles is among them, except that it stars Stanwyck. Married to Robert Preston, a reporter doing a feature on Las Vegas, she agrees to help out by getting in on the action. Soon, she's hooked, playing recklessly and compulsively even as her marriage is disintegrating. There's one brutal scene when she's beaten up by thugs in an alley -- not a scene often filmed with a top actress as victim. The film has a historical interest as one of the first to be set in that new Babylon in the desert, Las Vegas. (In the 30s, the only Nevada location was Reno; Vegas was still a chicken run.) Despite its semi-documentary approach, The Lady Gambles sustains interest; as a look at abnormal gambling, it's better than Gambling House (with Victor Mature) or The Las Vegas Story (with Mitchum and Jane Russell).
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Earth to Stanwyck
MerryArtist5 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
What is the most remarkable thing about this film? Well, the answer is simple. It is Miss Stanwyck's film, hands down. In one of her best performances of her later years, Barbara Stanwyck plays an emotionally distraught woman who is tortured by her deep-ridden "guilt" of having killed her mother during childbirth. It is part of an insecurity she has carried with her all her life, which finally reveals itself through gambling, a highly risky and dangerous venture into which she falls one day in Las Vegas.

At first it starts out innocent. She is a curious woman who observes people and games in the casino. But when she decides to risk her own money to have some fun, she instantly throws herself into a bottomless pit from which she cannot escape. Gambling is indeed a deadly addiction, and Joan Boothe slowly destroys herself as well as those around her - husband, sister and business partners - by her unstoppable vice.

As the film progresses, so does Stanwyck, who convincingly portrays a woman who tries to fight her disease only to fall deeper into it. One scene in particular is especially notable - it is a scene in which she confronts the call of gambling after a time of ease and relaxation with her husband in the Mexican coast. She comes across an old acquaintance she knew back in Las Vegas, and she rides out the storm at first by running home after realizing that she has thrown her friend's dice for him - and enjoyed it. Upon returning home she nervously starts to iron and organize clothes, when her eyes glance at the money box in the drawer. She doesn't touch it, but an ongoing internal battle is implicit. How Stanwyck does it is not fully explainable, but it is in moments like this that you realize just how much of an actress she really is. She is exquisite, versatile, pleasantly professional - definitely among the very best at her craft.
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"Kiss 'em for Me Baby"
HarlowMGM14 August 2007
Barbara Stanwyck is surely one of the greatest actresses ever in motion pictures but THE LADY GAMBLES is one of her lesser works despite a sincere, empathic performance by the star. This movie seems to want to be the gambling version of THE LOST WEEKEND but it's more like the lost 100 minutes , the time the viewer wastes watching this picture. Even the charismatic Stanwyck can't prevent this heavy-handed drama from being a chore to watch.

Stanwyck stars as the wife of newspaper journalist Robert Preston. They are in Las Vegas while he covers a story. Stanwyck decides to try to do an article herself on the gambling scene but her somewhat indiscreet camera work catches the eye of casino manager Stephen McNally who decides to let her play with valueless chips so she can be at the tables for her research. Trouble is Stanwyck finds she likes the tables a little too much and when McNally decides to put a plug in the playing for nothing, she dives into Preston's expense account and loses it all in a night. McNally, clearly attracted to Stanwyck from first sight, gives her $50 to play with out of pity after she has even hawked her expensive Swiss camera and being the good player she is Stanwyck actually wins her money back. But the lure of the tables is too strong and she keeps going back. And back. And losing. Ultimately destroying her marriage, she eventually joins forces with McNally in some of his questionably legal activities and later hits earthier lows in pursuit of lady luck where one seedy guy after another tells her to "kiss 'em for me baby" as she rolls the dice.

The movie is told in flashback as Stanwyck is hospitalized having been beat up by gamblers when she is caught dealing in a back alley crap game with loaded dice. Estranged husband Preston rushes to her side and tells the doctor the whole sad story.

The usually dependable Preston is one of the weakest links in the film; his character is alternately a milquetoast and a control freak but is at all times presented as Stanwyck's prince charming. Preston's performance is no help either, his rather theatrical delivery seems inappropriate for this attempt at "slice of life" drama; worse, in an amazingly unwise decision he speaks to the doctor in anguished troubled tones and then his narration over the past scenes is spoken with enthusiasm and dramatic flair! Stephen McNally fares much better as the intimidating Vegas big shot, his scenes with Stanwyck have considerable bite and are the film's highlight.

The worst thing about the film is the jaw-dropping pop psychology that attempts to explain away Stanwyck's gambling. It's because of her possessive older sister Edith Barrett!!! With her mother dying during childbirth, Stanwyck was "raised" by older (eight years, although Barrett was actually just six months older than Stanwyck) sister who has never let Barbara forget the sacrifices in her personal life she has made for her. Hero Preston seems frankly as controlling but since he is her husband, presumably that's OK with the screenwriters. The sister-is-the-root theory is interesting considering (A) Preston is hostile to the sister and her relationship with Barbara long before the gambling starts, (B) the gambling doesn't even start until Stanwyck is clearly into her thirties and (C) the sister is no where around to cause anxiety when most of the gambling binges occur!! But then what can you expect of reason from a film where a doctor attempts reverse psychology, encouraging a patient on a building ledge to jump!!

Barbara Stanwyck is always worth watching, her progression from dabbler to desperate is quite credible but even her solid work here can't save a movie that plays like a 1940's version of a 1970's half-baked "social issue" TV movie. Two stars going in opposite directions are also in the cast: newcomer Tony Curtis has an early bit part as a bellhop and 30's leading man Leif Erickson can be seen in a small role as one of McNally's questionable cohorts. Is this picture worth checking out? Well, it's your gamble.
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Stanwyck craps out
moonspinner552 August 2017
Cast as the wife of a Chicago writer doing a piece on Nevada's Hoover Dam, Barbara Stanwyck gives a sly, knowing performance as a housewife who discovers the addictive dice and gambling tables in Las Vegas. Noticing that she's taking pictures in a casino, the manager admires the wife's made-up story that she's doing a magazine item on gambling and gives her a stack of house chips "to shill for the casino." Soon, she's winning at poker--and alienating her husband and the spinster sister who resents her. This cautionary tale of a gambling addict is engrossing in spite of its unconvincing milieu and portrait of a marriage. Robert Preston is the incredibly naïve husband who's aghast at his wife's actions: "All of it, Joan? Tell me you spent the money on something else!" Ask a foolish question, you're liable to get a foolish answer. **1/2 from ****
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a serious role for Stanwyck
ksf-229 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This was the third and last time Stanwyck would work with Robert Preston. They also did Union Pacific and Variety Girls. This one is about a woman who becomes addicted to gambling. It opens with us seeing what she has become, and we're quickly into the flashback of how she got to that point. Preston (probably best known for westerns and of course, Victor Victoria) is her husband, who is there writing a story about Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, so Joan starts gambling, out of boredom at first. Then she gets in deeper and deeper, sure that she can win it back. The casino manager is "Corrigan", played by Stephen McNally. He is onto Joan, and tries to help her, but only because she can also help him. Friend "Ruth" is Edith Barrett... not sure what part she really plays here... it was kind of confusing. Joan blames all her troubles on Ruth, and there is bad blood between them, but Ruth actually plays a very small part in all this. Film buffs will recognize the pawnbroker, Housely Stevenson... he was also the plastic surgeon in Dark Passage. A worn face with so much character. Tony Curtis ( in only his third role !) is listed in the credits as "Bellboy". Pretty serious film, moves along steadily. Preston was only 30 in this ... looks and sounds SO different here than in his later roles. Nowadays, I think, the casino would have recognized Joan's problem and shut her off sooner, but I guess back then, they didn't see it the way we do now. No gamblers anonymous groups or hotlines to call. Great scenes of old las vegas and hoover dam. Due to stepped up security after the 2001 terrorists, the setup at hoover dam is all changed around now. Before that, you could pretty much drive anywhere, walk around the tunnels inside the dam, and we took the tour of the Arizona side of the generators. Ah, the good ol days. Historically, this one is certainly a part of Stanwyck's repertoire. Aside from that, it's well done, but it's kind of a downer. Directed by Michael Gordon. This one IS available on DVD as part of the Backlot Universal Stanwyck Collection.
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She lost her mind over the crap tables.
mark.waltz6 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Barbara Stanwyck follows up her last Oscar-nominated performance in "Sorry, Wrong Number" with even a better performance. As a woman who suddenly finds herself addicted to gambling and unable to stop, she really tears the emotions out of the issues of this character, showing many lost weekends and even weekdays as she loses, wins it all back again, loses some more, and ultimately faces a battle for her life when she gets in too deep.

Her husband, played by the future Music Man himself, Robert Preston, blames it on himself at first and eventually can't take anymore, giving her half of his savings so she can gamble it all away and so he can go on with his life. An excellent performance by stage actress Edith Barrett helps to explain Stanwyck's addictive personality. Playing her older sister, Barrett's resentment toward Stanwyck taking over her childhood are unleashed in a single emotional scene where the possessive and demanding Barrett reveals her true colors after having seemed so kindly when first introduced. Film Noir veteran Stephen McNally is excellent as the Vegas gambling casino owner who first encounters Stanwyck when she is accused of staking his joint. A ton of bit performers, both elegant and vile, become temporary enablers for Stanwyck's addiction.

Unlike Ray Milland's drunk in "The Lost Weekend", Stanwyck's mornings after are not filled with hangovers, only the desperation to start all over again. This is social drama at its most intense, starting with her being brutally beaten up. It all gets overly dramatic and intense at times, and while the lights of Vegas may seem beautiful, they are her pathways to hell. Stanwyck deserved another Oscar Nomination for this, but perhaps it was too hard for some Academy members to stomach. It was a brave role for her to take on, yet it has never made it into any of the many tributes I've seen of hers. But it ranks as an amazingly tough melodrama that is equally as engrossing as another tough dame's trek into despair: Susan Hayward in "Smash- Up".
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this was like a horror story to watch
bengleson18 August 2002
The first half of this depressing look at the addiction of gambling gave me the willies. The insidious descent of Stanwyck's character from placid, guilt-ridden housewife (who may have once had a career) into a card-playing, dice rolling junkie is too painful to watch. But I did.

The second half, especially the feeble attempt to recover, only to fall off the wagon, was predictable. Stanwyck is usually a powerhouse of an actress and would have been better served with a less smarmy ending. Still, the scenes of Vegas were enjoyable. I wouldn't hesitate to put this on a double bill with Reefer Madness. Through the windows of time, one cannot help to jump to the conclusion that they have some similarities. Other addiction movies, e.g. The Lost Weekend, warm the heart as well. There should be an addictions film festival. There probably is, right?
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Babs hits the skids!
daniel_white-4063126 August 2017
This is not a great film but it is a must see for all those Barbara Stanwyck fans out there (of which I am one). She plays Joan Boothe,a housewife who while visiting Las Vegas with hubby Robert Preston gets the gambling bug. She quickly becomes addicted and descends into the seedy, dirty world of the compulsive gambler. The movie attempts to psychologically explain why La Stanwyck has an addictive personality but really who cares. Sit back and watch the masterful Barbara portray a sick, out of control addict. She bankrupts her husband, gets beat up , screws up a horse racing con, prostitutes herself. This is grim stuff but in the hands of the brilliant Barbara Stanwyck it is worth watching. Barbara Stanwyck was the greatest of all the leading ladies from the golden Age of Hollywood. Versatile, compelling and oh so watchable she was a natural infusing every scene she played, with a believable humanness. Joan Crawford could have played this and done so fairly well but she wouldn't have been as good as Stanwyck. I just got finished watching a bunch of her movies and I am giddy with Stanwyckitis. I am addicted! Thank God the lady made 80+ movies-I can keep watching for a while before I run out of Barbara and withdrawal sets in!
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Stanwyck develops a gambling addiction
blanche-214 August 2017
From 1949, The Lady Gambles stars Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Preston, and Stephen McNally.

Stanwyck plays Joan Boothe, who accompanies reporter husband David (Preston) to Las Vegas where he is working on a story about the Hoover Dam. Left to her own devices, she becomes interested in gambling to the point where it becomes an addiction. Though she tries to fight it, she can't, and ultimately loses her husband and falls into the clutches of Horace Corrigan, who runs the casino and has her number.

Stanwyck does well showing Joan's downward spiral. The film dabbles in psychology in Joan's relationship with her older sister Ruth (Edith Barrett) for whom she takes responsibility, though her husband objects.

Good performances all around, as well as some brutal and scary moments. Definitely keeps your interest.

Watch for Tony Curtis in one of his first speaking roles as a telegram delivery boy. The director told him, "All you want is a tip." He's adorable.
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She certainly does
Alex da Silva19 June 2013
Robert Preston (David) tracks down his wife Barbara Stanwyck (Joan) in hospital after she has been beaten up. He pleas with John Hoyt (Dr Rojac) to let her go home with him after she has been treated rather than hand her over to the police where she has several outstanding charges. In flashback, we watch the story of her descent into gambling addiction after a visit to Las Vegas.

The film is interesting to watch for the location settings. I actually bought it specifically for the Las Vegas setting as it is where I got married earlier this year and I wanted to make a comparison with 1949. The story was incidental. As it turns out, the story is OK if predictable. Stanwyck carries the film with good support from gangster Stephen McNally (Mr Corrigan). Robert Preston changes his tune during the course of the film as he swings from rejecting her to accepting her while the role of Stanwyck's sister Edith Barrett (Ruth) is pretty annoying and some sentimental pop psychology is dragged into the proceedings.

I'm sure that the inspiration behind the Las Vegas section of the film was Bugsy Siegel and his Flamingo Hotel which paved the way for the notoriety of the Strip. The main body of the film is set in the Pelican Hotel (a bit similar?) and McNally has an interest in a horse racing scam just as Bugsy did.

The film ends in a disappointingly corny way after a funny moment when John Hoyt shows us what to say to someone when they are about to jump off a window ledge. I dare you to try it some day! As for the film's climax, we have to hopefully imagine that everything will go downhill again once they return to Vegas and hit the casinos.
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The gambler
jotix10016 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Gambling is a terrible thing, as bad as any other addiction. Joan Boothe, an apparent happy wife from Chicago, falls under the spell of Las Vegas, when she and her writer husband, David, go west, where he is writing about the area. Joan, who is attracted by the prospect of winning, gets hooked into a style of life so different from her own.

Joan meets an unscrupulous man, Horace Corrigan, who is part of the underworld operating in Sin City. Her association to this criminal would prove her own undoing. Once she has tasted the excitement of that world, is almost impossible to get her back to reality, as she ends losing everything, including a loving husband.

This Universal International release of 1949, directed by Michael Gordon, is sadly dated. The main attraction for watching is Barbara Stanwyck, even if this film doesn't add anything to her distinguished career. As always, Ms. Stanwyck holds our interest from the start. The surprise in this movie is Stephen McNally, who is seen as Corrigan, the corrupt man who will stop at nothing. Robert Preston doesn't have much to do as David. A young Tony Curtis can be seen for a fleeting moment as a bellhop.
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