by Scott Pearson Eberly
I would argue that Dink and Boston in my film The Best of It are two of my all-time favorite gambling characters in film, but they’re non-fiction of course. Here’s a look at who I view as the ten greatest fictional characters that had gambling in their D.N.A.
These were ten characters who stuck with me. How about you? Who did I miss?
10. Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) in Rounders (1998)
THE HOUSE WHO ALSO GAMBLES
Great character. He had the vibe of a creepy gambler who might also be a stone cold killer. How smart could he be though? I mean a tell as obvious as playing with ones cookies sounds like a mistake only Cookie Monster would make. But to his credit... in the end when he got crushed he proved to be a man of integrity, "pay dat man his money." The screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien who created Teddy KGB went on to create the Showtime series Billions about the gamble of wall Street.
Studio: Miramax Director: John Dahl | Scene: "The Tell"
9. Monty Capuletti (Rodney Dangerfield) in Easy Money (1983)
THE LOVABLE SQUARE WHO WINS AT THE GAME OF FUN
Monty Capuletti loves to smoke, drink, and gamble. He borders on being your typical square, but this list needs an everyman! A commoner! A guy who loves to gamble as much as he hates his mother-in-law!
Mony's best friend Nicky Cerone (Joe Pesci) has a tip, it's time to get to the racetrack. Tell me, has Aqueduct ever looked so glorious? That's because the track is actually called Hoover Downs and it was shot at Pompano Park even though they reside in Staten Island. I rather liked the track announcers updates, "Sixty seconds to post time... thirty seconds to post time... two seconds to post time... no more bets." And how about Nicky's line to that gambler that's going to co*k-block you, "What are you doing? Buying a house?"
Who hasn't been stiffed by a jockey? But whatever you do, don't stiff Nicky!
studio: Orion Pictures | Director: James Signorelli
8. Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) in Mississippi Grind (2105)
THE DEGENERATE LOSER
Gerry loves to gamble, but unlike Monty (Easy Money) he's your degenerate sucker who has the wherewithal of talented gambler, could hit his best of bet of the night and still lose. Curtis and Gerry become friends and for once Gerry is going to have a bankroll courtesy of his new found friend while the two go road tripping down the Mississippi. I mean who hasn't been broke and on the phone while in a seedy restroom claiming to have the money to get down large on Hawaii over Gonzaga? Doesn't every gambler have a friend like this?
If you want to see just how talented of an actor Ben Mendelssohn is you should check him out in the Netflix series Bloodline.
Studio: Sycamore Pictures | Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
7. Eddie Mush (Eddie Montanaro) in A Bronx Tale (1993)
THE DEGENERATE JINX WHO NEVER, EVER, EVER WINS
If Eddie Mush didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any luck at all. This was Eddie Montanaro's only role and he nailed it! You know the guy who is a "fu*king jinx! Montanaro probably had a little bit of an edge in playing Eddie Mush on the big screen and there's a good reason for that. Robert De Niro had trouble finding the right person to play Mush, so he asked Chazz Palminteri (the film's star also wrote the one-man play and screenplay based on his childhood) to go and find the real Mush. Palminteri based the script on his own experience and that's how the film was able to capture Eddie Mush in a funny light, not cartoonish, while he still maintaining an authenticity to him. Ironically De Niro and Palminteri worried about Montanaro bringing bad luck to the film because his aura of being a jinx was real--the first day he came to the set-- it rained. I told ya, he's a fu*king jinx!
Poor Cyrptonight! He never had a chance!!! He got Mushed!
Studio: Price Entertainment/Tribeca Productions | Director: Robert De Niro
6. Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) in The Hustler (1961)
A GAMBLER WHO BETS ON HIS OWN SKILL SET
I'll always remember the dialogue between Eddie Felson and his manager/gambler Bert Gordon played by George C. Scott.
Bert: You got talent.
Eddie: So I got talent. What beat me?
Fast Eddie Felson is one of those benchmark characters; so rich and real that he reaches out of the screen and grabs the audience. Seeing Newman and Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats) go toe to toe is like watching two heavyweights engage in a epic battle. In 2006, A.F.I. (American Film Institute) ranked this the #6 greatest film in the sports genre. Fast Eddie dreamt of getting a showdown with Minnesota Fats and when he does he shines with his shotmaking and like his manager says, he lacked character.
The real growth by Eddie is when he accepts his own realities while managing his dreams.
Rossen Films | Director: Robert Rossen
5. Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) in Hard Eight (1996)
A VALUE GAMBLER WHO KNOWS EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK.
Paul Thomas Anderson was invited to the Sundance Institute after his movie Cigarettes & Coffee played at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. Hard Eight was the movie he developed in the Sundance Institute Lab.This was also P.T.'s first and only film where he lacked control over his film, he wanted the title of the movie to be called Sydney. Sydney is played by Philip Baker Hall. He's the gambler who knows not only his advantages as a gambler, but he also knows how to get comped for free rooms, buffets, smokes, hell, he'll even get free movies up in his suite. He meets John played by John C. Reilly who needs to scrape together $6,000 to pay for his mom's funeral. Sydney teaches the kid the ropes and a friendship is born.
Studio: Green Parrot/MGM | Director: P.T. Anderson
It's good film. It was shot in Reno and allows you to see the film before P.T. made Boogie Nights. Samuel L. Jackson actually shot this before Tarantino's classic Pulp Fiction was released.
Remember, don't order the free cocktails--it'll end up being a $150 cocktail!
4. Sam 'Ace' Rothstein (Robert De Niro) in Casino (1995)
JUST YOUR TYPICAL CASH COW SPORTS BETTOR FOR THE MOB WHO ENDS UP RUNNING A CASINO
I loved this movie even though I left the theater saying it was Goodfellas gone west. A film has never done a better job of showing the relationship between Las Vegas and the mob before corporate America took over the script. Personally I loved 'Ace' the handicapper, but the scene demonstrating how a casino is run is very good too.
tudio: Universal Pictures | Director Martin Scorsese
I also like that the scene because it introduces us to Don Rickles! It was actually Illena Douglas (actress) who was Scorsese's girlfriend at the time who first started pushing for Rickles to be cast in the movie after seeing him on Later with Bob Costas. Rickles reportedly heckled De Niro after every take, "are you sure you want to do it like that Bobby?" He left Pesci alone after giving him some guff, Pesci put Rickles in a headlock.
3. Jay Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) in Let It Ride (1989)
THE GAMBLER WHO STEPS TO THE WINDOW THINKING, "NO GUTS, NO GLORY."
What can you say about Jay Trotter; he's the gambler everyone admires, but no one wants to be. He's the guy who the teller says, "You are the champ! You got more guts than sense. I love it!" I thought the film critic Scott Weinberg said it best, "Only in movies can you come across selfish bastards and actually like." Jennifer Tilly was in her prime too!
Studio: Paramount Pictures | Director: Joe Pytka
Let It Ride was pretty much panned by critics, yet universally adored by gamblers. Let's head to the track.
2. Axel Freed (James Caan) in The Gambler (1974)
THE PAINFUL, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE GAMBLER WHO ONLY KNOW ONE KIND OF ENDING
I've had friends tell me during dinners, strangers at cocktail parties, blah blah blah, one of the most cringeworthy scenes that they have to look away from and is when John Favreau's character Mike in Swingers. I felt the same way before finally seeing The Gambler. The film's realism is thanks to screenwriter James Toback who based the script on his many epic gambling runs and run-ins with bookies owing very large sums of money. James Caan nailed his role as Axel Freed, especially the scene in the bathtub.
Studio: Paramount Pictures | Director: Karel Reisz
The best part about this film is that Caan and Toback didn't rely on the cliches of other gambling movies that make the gambling elements problematic.
1. Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) in California Split (1974)
A PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER WITH A WICKED SENSE OF HUMOR
What are the odds? Two of the best gambling movies with two of the greatest characters in the history of cinema are from the same year. 1974 gave us California Split and The Gambler. How do you separate Axel Freed from Charlie Walters? For me, it came down to humor and the fact that this was a gambler who was funny and knew how to have fun while still living on the edge.
Funny and cynical Robert Altman gave us a buddy film that paired us with chemistry that oozed on the screen between Elliott Gould and George Segal (Bill Denny) who played Walters' amigo and partner in crime. No real crimes, but they definitely went to the edge. Altman used real betting halls and casinos with real dealers, gamblers, and bartenders too.
Elliott Gould as Charlie Waters will have you eating out of his hands by the time the credits roll.
Studio: Columbia Pictures Cororation | Director: Robert Altman