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Noirvember 2018, Episode 30: The Lady Gambles (1949)

The Lady Gambles (1949)

Directed by Michael Gordon

Produced by Michael Kraike

Written by Halstead Welles

Screenplay by Roy Huggins

Story by Lewis Meltzer, Oscar Saul

Cinematography by Russell Metty

Universal Pictures

(1:39) New to me - DVD

When Noirvember 2018 kicked off, I decided to hold a contest, allowing you the reader to choose one of the films I’d watch and review for Noirvember. Today’s film is the winner of that contest and Jenifer S. was the lucky winner of a copy of Foster Hirsch’s book The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir (1981), the first book I ever read on film noir. A big thanks to Jenifer and everyone else who voted! Maybe we’ll do it again next year. So let’s take a look at The Lady Gambles


“Kiss ‘em, baby… Kiss ‘em for me.”

Kissing a pair of dice doesn’t do anyone any good, certainly not Joan Boothe (Barbara Stanwyck) as she gets knocked around in the film’s opening, a prelude to a hospital visit which is itself a prelude to a trip to prison. Joan’s husband David (Robert Preston) pleads with the authorities to let him help her.

Before we know it, film noir’s best friend, the flashback, arrives on the scene to show us that David and Joan were once a happy couple. David has just taken Joan with him to Las Vegas, where he’s writing an article on the Hoover Dam for a Chicago newspaper. While David’s on assignment, Joan decides to do some investigative reporting on her own, a piece about gambling.

When the casino proprietor Horace Corrigan (Stephen McNally) discovers Joan secretly taking photos of people gambling, he summons her into his office. Joan gives him the story and Corrigan gives her some chips, telling her that if she really wants to understand gamblers, she needs to have some experience gambling. And…..we’re off.

Of course we know that Joan is quickly going to develop a gambling addiction, going missing for long stretches of time while David wonders where she is. Some of these moments are good, but too many of them basically do the same thing.

Russell Metty creates a wonderful noir-stained moment when Joan pleads with Corrigan in his office for more money. Not-so-wonderful is the completely unnecessary subplot involving Joan’s sister Ruth (Edith Barrett). While nowhere near as powerful as The Lost Weekend (1945), a similar film about a different type of addiction, The Lady Gambles contains several good moments, and of course, Stanwyck herself, who never disappoints. Look for a brief appearance by Tony Curtis as a hotel bellboy.

Next time: the Noirvember 2018 wrap-up and what to do next

Photos: DVD Beaver, Beautiful Fraud, Film Noir of the Week

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