The Gambler (1997) was adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Novella, and was co-produced by Hungarian Karoly Makk. The film marks Luise Rainer’s main appearance in half a century since her last movie Hostages (1943), as well as her first acting since A Dancer (1988).
In a financial pickle, struggling to meet his publisher demands and mounting debts occasioned by a gambling addiction, Fyodor Dostoyevsky scripted The Gambler in less than a month. As for the adaptation, the scripters, Katherine Ogden and Charles Cohen wanted to draw a dilemma between the author’s own past life and that of the characters in the film. The result? A multifaceted screen cast that managed to bring to life bits of the plot against a back drop of present day elements.
The film is essentially a movie a novel inside a movie, and Makk takes this approach to explain how he came he came to script this analysis of the problems associated with gambling.
The author’s real life struggles as well as his mushrooming relation with a stenographer are also captured in the scenes, which also served to shine focus in his alter ego.
Scenes in the film cover a period of 8 years – right from discussions between Karoly Makk and Charles Cohen – right to its release. In that time, the script made rounds in a number of studios in America and Europe. Karoly, a director or repute, was with the project right from its inception, after he and Chen meet nearly 30 years ago.
Financing and casting took some time, however, 1994 came and the Anthony Hopkins jumped on board to play the role of Dostoyevsky. Soon after he dropped out to take a role in Nixon (1995), and won an Oscar for it. A search for the replacement ensued, a suitable match was identified in Michael Gambon. The other challenge that the film had to grapple with was the crucial role of the Grandmother. Makes of the film had expressed interest in Capucine, but she passed on in 1990 and no one new about it until later on.
Following the death Capucine, numerous attempts were made to find a suitable candidate but as Marc Vlessing would admit later on, none stood out as an authoritative Russian Matriarch. Through a referral, they got to hear about Luise, and immediately Makk jumped at the idea. He was looking to see what Luise, an actor who had been out of the game for quite a while, would achieve. She turned out to be charming, funny and attractive.
Her scenes in the film are the unexpected arrival of the Grandmother at a casino as well as her success or failure at one of the casino’s roulette table. The scene is brief, but quite memorable.
The film was shot in Hungary in 1996 and premiered on the 30th of October, 1997, in London. In the film everyone is a gambler of some sort. It just a matter of who has the better of the other. In some instances, the dialogue in the film is somewhat anachronistic with fictional scenes seeming stagey at best. However, the connection between the characters Gambon and May is interesting and well performed. The best of them all, as you shall soon find out, is Luise Rainer. She easily steals the show despite being of the game for nearly 50 years.