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The Gambler (1974)

Axel Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all of his money, he borrows from his girlfriend, then his mother, and finally some bad guys that chase him. Despite all of this, he cannot stop gambling.


Karel Reisz


James Toback
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
James Caan ... Axel Freed
Paul Sorvino ... Hips
Lauren Hutton ... Billie
Morris Carnovsky ... A.R. Lowenthal
Jacqueline Brookes ... Naomi Freed
Burt Young ... Carmine
Carmine Caridi ... Jimmy
Vic Tayback ... One
Steven Keats Steven Keats ... Howie
London Lee London Lee ... Monkey
M. Emmet Walsh ... Las Vegas Gambler
James Woods ... Bank Officer
Carl W. Crudup ... Spencer
Allan Rich ... Bernie
Stuart Margolin ... Cowboy


Axel Freed, a college professor and very successful at his job, is addicted to gambling, who wins big, but loses it all just as fast. He borrowed from his girlfriend, his wealthy mother, and last but not least a loan shark. It just gets worse for him because he can't stop. But when his girlfriend decides to leave him, his mom decides to disown him, and the mob wants to kill him, Axel decides to make a big score to win big and pay off everyone to stay alive and keep his dignity and come out ahead. Written by Wesley Benton

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


For $10,000 they break your arms. For $20,000 they break your legs. Axel Freed owes $44,000.


Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


One of James Caan's favorites of one of his own films. See more »


Hips: Listen, I'm gonna tell you something I never told a customer before. Personally, I never made a bet in my life. You know why? Because I've observed firsthand what with seeing the different kinds of people that are addicted to gambling - what we would call degenerates. I've noticed there's one thing that makes all of them the same. You know what that is?
Axel Freed: Yes. They're all looking to lose.
Hips: You mean you know that!
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Referenced in The Deuce: Inside the Pretend (2018) See more »


Symphony No. 1 in D
by Gustav Mahler (as Mahler)
Performed by Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest (as The Concertgebouw Orchestra)
Conducted by Bernard Haitink (as Haitink)
Courtesy of Philips Records
See more »

User Reviews

Why not quit while you're ahead?
11 February 1999 | by Doctor_BombaySee all my reviews

I grew up amongst gamblers, spending much of my time hustling bowling and gin rummy throughout the Midwest, until, at 17, I shuffled off to the Ivy-covered walls of a prestigious Eastern College.

This gives me much simpatico with Axel Freed, the central character and portrait of self-destruction, the gambler, and James Toback, the film's author. Toback's own reflections suggest that Axel is in many ways auto-biographical.

As a film, The Gambler is shortsighted, an ambitious but nonetheless failed attempt by a first-time screenwriter in difficult waters. It is not without its brilliance-its relentless dedication toward conveying that any gambler's true goal is not success, but utter humiliation-destruction of one's self, and anything and anyone around him. It can be no other way.

In the 1990's where independent film has achieved an emergence and respect in its own, a film like this might have found the strength among the very talented people involved, (Toback, James Caan, Karel Reisz) to emerge into a true gem. Alas this 70's neglected studio cast-off didn't have that opportunity.

London Lee is great in support, Paul Sorvino and Burt Young are well cast as Freed's mob-ties. Young's performance as a mob leg-breaker includes quite a raw, and shocking collection scene.

Probably a pass for any but the gambling addict, for them, a head (as in tape-head) burner. For those who are intrigued by Toback's intelligent approach to the seedier side, try his next effort, Fingers (1978), a diamond in the rough.

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Release Date:

17 February 1975 (Denmark) See more »

Also Known As:

The Gambler See more »

Filming Locations:

Tucson, Arizona, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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