The Gambler Movie (1980)

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Directed by Dick Lowry

Written by Jim Byrnes and Cort Casady

Genre: TV Movie, Western

Length: 94 min


Kenny Rodgers as Brady Hawkes

Christine Belford as Eliza

Ronnie Scribner as Jeremiah

Bruce Boxleitner as Billy Montana

Lee Purcell as Jennie Reed

Clue Gulager as Rufe Bennett

Harold Gould as Arthur Stobridge


Kenny Rodgers, the gambler, receives a letter from his son Jeremiah (Ronnie Scribner) pleading for help. The former embarks on a train in El Paso to go rescue the son despite the fact that he never knew him before. Ronnie was living in Yuma with his abusive casino owning stepfather named Rufe Bennett (Clue Gulager), as well as his mother Eliza.

Along the way, Brady meets poker enthusiast Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner) and teaches him a gambling lesson by saving him from two aggressive cheaters. The pair form a friendship out of the incident.

Brady makes sure that Montana maintains modesty during the train ride despite efforts of the latter trying to cheat and smooth talk. The duo help Jennie Reed (Lee Purcell), a former sex worker who is having trouble with Arthur Stobridge (Harold Gould), the train line owner. At the end, they both stand up to Brady’s son cruel stepfather (Clue Gulager) in a bloody gunfight.


Kenny Rodgers, a decorated singer, stars in a TV movie adapted to one of his hit song. The initial title of the movie “Kenny Rodgers the Gambler “originates from the trait portrayed by Kenny Rodgers. The film being a star debut for Kenny Rodgers proves his talent as he acquits himself well in the film.

A huge rating success inspired the production of subsequent films namely: The Adventure Continues, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Part III: The Legend Continues, The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw and Gambler V: Playing for Keeps.

Being a big fan of Kenny Rodgers’ artistic work, the movie captures my attention instantly as it begins with Kenny singing his famous song “The Gambler”. I have found myself watching the movie repeatedly due to the producer’s ability to blend crime, drama, intelligence, and western cultures in the film.

Rodgers uses words of wisdom “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run”, that have a greater and distinct meaning to anyone who takes heed to them.

The movie imitates the actual tune by illustrating heroic acts of two friends and a family drama involving Brady Hawkes and his sons’ stepfather. The writer (Jim Byrnes) illustrates his supreme knowledge on Western norms leading to the production of the film relative to the genre of the west in that era.

Worth mentioning is that Rogers performance as the leading man in this film is actually quite impressive, and many hoped he would deeply venture into movie acting. However, Kenny was already enjoying a successful music career and probably could not afford his career being occupied by a shooting schedule.

The plot is relatively generic and production values are typically what you would expect for a made-for-TV western film. The most interesting stories are about gambling, but unfortunately they are derailed by many silly side stories such as a lost son and ex-sex worker (Lee Purcell) who’s having issues with a train baron.

But you do feel that the film has a lot of heart, especially in the father and son scenes. To be fair, this isn’t a masterpiece, but it brings out plenty of passion for poker and for the western genre. The shootout scenes are very weak, while things get interesting in poker scenes.

In terms of personality, Brady plays a man of few words and admirable character. Bruce Boxleitner is presented as an ever smiling and cheerful man who is charming and persuasive.

On most occasions, the plot in Western movies involves archetypal conflict and the theme of virtue vs evil is immensely illustrated in the film. Elements of hostility, gunfights, horses, trains, open landscapes, gambling, and a unique western dressing “cowboy” are just a few of the Western behaviors depicted in the movie.

For a conclusion, The Gambler is a good one for anyone who enjoys Westerns, an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.


This work of art directed by Dick Lowry ended up initiating a successful franchise of sequels that came out over the course of the next 15 years. It even won the Eddie Award for Best Edited TV Special and got two Emmy nominations. Overall, a 7.0 rating is a fair one for what it is.

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