I’m always looking for a film noir I haven’t seen, good or bad, big-budget or low-budget, in English or another language. Yesterday I stumbled across Gambling House (1950) directed by Ted Tetzlaff for RKO. You can find it on YouTube and on a Spanish DVD collection called Victor Mature “Noir.” (At least they put noir in quotes, letting buyers know this might not be a collection of totally legit noir.)
Let me tell you right off the bat: Gambling House contains very little gambling in the way we might normally imagine games of chance and other gambling activities, but it does contain Victor Mature, William Bendix, and Terry Moore, all of whom I enjoy watching.
A gangster named Farrow (Bendix) offers gambler Marc Fury (Mature) $50,000 to take the fall for a murder Farrow committed. We sense from Fury’s demeanor that he’s been down this road before. Of course Farrow thinks that once Fury is in the slammer, he can take back his $50K. Not so fast… In textbook gambling style, Fury takes a chance, pleads self-defense and walks away scot-free. Of course Farrow’s not too happy about this and gets even unhappier when Fury nabs Farrow’s incriminating numbers book, holding it for insurance. Pursued by Farrow’s boys, Fury slips the numbers book into the pocket of a woman named Lynn Warren (Moore), an immigration social worker. This relationship leads Fury to surprisingly discover that he’s not an American citizen and could soon be deported.
If you feel I’ve given away too much of the plot, most of this happens in the film’s early going. Of course we know that a relationship is going to develop between Fury and Lynn, and… it’s a bit of a stretch. Gambling House isn’t exactly a smooth transition from film noir into melodrama, but it’s not a jackhammer ride either. The picture may not be all that believable, but Mature is quite good in the role, which makes up for Bendix’s limited screen time. And while Moore doesn’t have that much to do in the film, she plays an unbelievable role quite believably. (There’s “more Moore” in the film as well: Cleo Moore, no relation to Terry, in a small role.)
Yet the melodrama works for me, at least much of it does. (I also enjoyed a scene late in the film as Fury walks by a movie theater featuring a poster of The Window, a 1949 film noir also directed by Ted Tetzlaff.) I guess it finally worked for Mature as well, but not from the outset. Originally titled Mr. Whiskas, the picture was scheduled for a 1948 release, but was delayed so that Mature could make Easy Living (1949). Mature was under contract with Twentieth-Century Fox but was on loan-out to RKO for one picture a year. Later in 1949, Mr. Whiskas was (thankfully) renamed Alias Mike Fury, but Mature refused the scenario or the script (or both) and was suspended by Fox. The script was rewritten, and Mature agreed to the part. It appears to have been the right move, since Mature is well-suited to the role and does some good work here.
Terry Moore with Richard Jaeckel in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Terry Moore (still with us at the age of 94) walked on the dark side of the street a few times, appearing in Gaslight (uncredited, 1944), Two of a Kind (1951), Shack Out on 101 (1955), and Portrait of Alison (1956), yet she’s most famous for her Oscar-nominated role of Marie in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952).
Gambling House isn’t filled with roulette wheels, dice, cards, or slot machines, but the title does take on a significant meaning. While it’s not a great noir, the film is enjoyable and entertaining, a little something different for your Noirvember viewing.