CinematographerVictor J. Kemper
DirectorKarel Reisz
Aspect Ratio1.85
Format – 35mm with spherical lenses
Shooting locationsNew York City and Las Vegas

The Movie
Fueled by an attraction to escalating risk, a self-destructive New York literature professor (James Caan) makes a series of increasingly dangerous wagers. Shot on location by the great Victor J. Kemper (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Dog Day Afternoon), with a cast populated by venerable New York characters actors like Paul Sorvino and Burt Young (as well as early roles for M. Emmet Walsh and James Woods).

The film marked the first American-made effort from director Karel Reisz – the Czech-born British helmer of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Night Must Fall – as well as the first published screenplay for James Toback, whose own gambling addiction and teaching experience inspired the story.

Here’s Toback on the genesis of the script, from Interview Magazine.

“I was determined to become a novelist on the order of Fyodor Dostoevsky. And around my second year at Harvard, I realized Steve Saltonstall, who was in the writing seminar I was taking, was a much better writer than I was, so I thought that if in a class of 10 people, I’m second best, then the chances of my being the best novelist in the world are zero. And yet I tried. I started to write The Gambler as a novel. And then I realized I was seeing it as a movie, even though I’d never read a film script. And I started it over again.”

Check out the archive’s categorized collection of frames here.

Mirror Zoom

After winning big in Vegas, Caan can’t quit while he’s ahead and places a sizable wager on a Lakers vs. Sonics game. Caan’s anguished reaction during the game’s conclusion plays out below in a long, slow zoom that lasts nearly a minute and a half. The scene starts with an insert of a radio broadcasting the game and then – in a wider shot – the methodical zoom begins on Caan’s reflection in the bathroom mirror.

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