This 1965 gambling drama provided career breakthroughs for female lead Ann-Margret and director Norman Jewison. For Ann-Margret, the role of a gambler’s seductive wife gave her a chance to demonstrate her dramatic talents years before Carnal Knowledge (1971) brought her an Oscar nomination. Jewison was also making the transition to stronger film fare after years of directing light comedies, pointing ahead to his work on the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night (1967). Jewison wasn’t the original director of this slick, fantasy about a hotshot young gambler (Steve McQueen) taking on poker bigwig Edward G. Robinson. Producer Martin Ransohoff had hired Sam Peckinpah, but objected when the iconoclastic director seemed more intent on capturing the gritty side of the film’s setting, Depression-era New Orleans. After four days of butting heads, Ransohoff fired Peckinpah and brought in Jewison, who focused on the star wattage delivered by McQueen, Ann-Margret, Robinson, Joan Blondell, as a wise-cracking dealer, and Tuesday Weld as McQueen’s girlfriend. Although it was a box-office hit, critics at the time kept comparing the film to the pool-hall drama The Hustler (1961). Since then, however, audiences and critics have learned to appreciate Jewison’s slick, fantasy world, not to mention the cast’s strong performances.
(d. Norman Jewison, 102m, 35mm)
In attendance: Ann-Margret