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House of Games (1987)

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A psychiatrist comes to the aid of a compulsive gambler and is led by a smooth-talking grifter into the shadowy but compelling world of stings, scams, and con men.


David Mamet


David Mamet (screenplay), Jonathan Katz (story) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 6 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lindsay Crouse ... Margaret Ford
Joe Mantegna ... Mike
Mike Nussbaum ... Joey
Lilia Skala ... Dr. Littauer
J.T. Walsh ... The Businessman
Willo Hausman Willo Hausman ... Girl with Book
Karen Kohlhaas Karen Kohlhaas ... Prison Ward Patient
Steven Goldstein ... Billy Hahn (as Steve Goldstein)
Jack Wallace ... Bartender / House of Games
Ricky Jay ... George / Vegas Man
G. Roy Levin G. Roy Levin ... Poker Player
Bob Lumbra Bob Lumbra ... Poker Player
Andy Potok Andy Potok ... Poker Player
Allen Soule Allen Soule ... Poker Player
Ben Blakeman Ben Blakeman ... Bartender / Charlie's Tavern


A famous psychologist, Margaret Ford, decides to try to help one of her patients get out of a gambling debt. She visits the bar where Mike, to whom the debt is owed, runs poker games. He convinces her to help him in a game: her assignment is to look for "tells", or give-away body language. What seems easy to her becomes much more complex. Written by John J. Magee <magee@helix.mgh.harvard.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Nothing is as it seems. See more »


Crime | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:






Release Date:

14 October 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Tell See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$116,677, 18 October 1987, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Filmhaus See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Debut theatrical feature film of costume designer Nan Cibula. See more »


Margaret asks the House of Games's barman to call Mike out. Then he enters in the game room and closes the door. We don't see him comes back. So Mike opens the door and comes to talk her. During the conversation we don't see the barman behind the counter. But after Mike went to the game room, the barman appears behind the counter. See more »


Dr. Margaret Ford: You took my money.
Mike: How naughty of me.
See more »


Referenced in David Mamet on 'House of Games' (2007) See more »


Fugue from the Toccata in C Minor
(BWV 911)
by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Warren Bernhardt, piano
See more »

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User Reviews

Good but stagy, improbably but entertaining
1 March 2003 | by SanTropez_CouchSee all my reviews

Here's my first David Mamet directed film. Fitting, since it was his first, as well.

The story here is uneven and it moves along like any con movie, from the little cons to the big cons to the all-encompassing con. It's like "The Grifters," but without that film's level of acting. (In that film, John Cusack was sort of bland but that was the nature of his character.) The acting here is very flat (I sometimes wondered if the bland acting by Crouse was supposed to be some sort of attack on psychoanalysis). At least in the beginning. It never gets really good, but it evolves beyond painfully stiff line reading after about ten minutes. Early in the film, some of Lindsay Crouse's lines -- the way she reads them -- sound as if they're inner monologue or narration, which they aren't. With the arrival of Mantegna things pick up.

The dialogue here isn't as fun as it should be. I was expecting crackerjack ring-a-ding-ding lines that roll off the tongue, but these ones don't. It all sounds very read, rather than spoken. Maybe Mamet evolved after this film and loosened up, but if not, then maybe he should let others direct his words. He's far too precious with them here and as a result, they lose their rhythmic, jazzy quality. What's more strange is that other than this, the film doesn't look or feel like a play. The camera is very cinematic. My only problem with "Glengarry Glen Ross" was that it looked too much like filmed theatre, but in that film the actors were not only accomplished, but relaxed and free. Everything flowed.

I wouldn't mind so much if it sounded like movie characters speaking movie lines -- or even play characters speaking play lines -- but here it sounds like movie (or even book) characters speaking play lines. It's a weird jumble of theatre and film that just doesn't work. That doesn't mean the movie is bad -- it isn't, it's often extremely entertaining. The best chunk is in the middle.

It's standard con movie stuff: the new guy (in this case, girl) Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) gets involved in the seedy con underworld. How she gets involved is: she's a psychiatrist and one of her patients, Billy is a compulsive gambler. She wants to help him out with his gambling debt, so she walks into The House of Games, a dingy game room where con men work in a back room. I'll admit the setup is pretty improbable. (Were they just expecting Crouse to come in? Were they expecting she'd write a cheque? Was Billy in on it? One of these questions is definitely answered by the end, however.)

And from here the cons are start to roll out. I found the beginning ones -- the little learner ones -- to be the most fun. We're getting a lesson in the art of the con as much as Crouse is.

We see the ending coming, and then we didn't see the second ending coming, and then the real ending I didn't see coming but maybe you did. The ball just keeps bouncing back and forth and by the last scene in the movie we realize that the second Crouse walked into The House of Games she found her true calling.

I'm going to forgive the annoying opening, the improbable bits and the strange line-reading because there are many good things here. If the first part of the movie seems stagy, stick with it. After the half-hour mark it does really get a momentum going. If you want a fun con movie, then here she is. If you want Mamet, go watch "Glengarry Glen Ross" again -- James Foley did him better.


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