A down on his luck gambler links up with free spirit Elliot Gould at first to have some fun on, but then gets into debt when Gould takes an unscheduled trip to Tijuana. As a final act of desperation, he pawns most of his possessions and goes to Reno for the poker game of a lifetime. A film set mainly in casinos and races, as the two win and lose (but mainly win), get robbed, and get blind drunk.Written by
The compulsive gambler seen through Altman's dark glass
Why California Split remains among the most obscure of Robert Altman's extraordinary 1970s oeuvre is a mystery. Its stars -- Elliot Gould and George Segal -- were at the top of their form, free and comfortable working in Altman's off-the-cuff, low-key style. Its supporting cast -- Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles and especially Bert Remsen, as the cross-dressing old jane "Helen Brown," -- is memorable. And its full gallery of extras (many drawn from the therapeutic community Synanon) populate a surreal gambling netherworld in California and Nevada. Altman is working in highest gear with the layered, semi-improvised and alluringly murky style he pioneered. As in Altman's best work, the story just sort of happens, without much distinction between foreground and backdrop, principal characters and walk-ons. Lacking the rigid and didactic "dramaturgy" of its competitors, California Split endures as one of the most probing examinations of the soul and psyche of the abnormal gambler ever filmed.
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