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USA 1949
Directed by
Michael Gordon
99 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Lady Gambles

Any American film that starts off with a woman being beaten in an alley suggests that it is prepared to take risks. When that woman is Barbara Stanwyck, even more so. This B-grade melodrama, written by prolific TV writer Roy Huggins, who was responsible for the hugely successful 1960s series The Fugitive, doesn’t exactly hold up as a walk on the wild side but it is nevertheless interesting on two levels. Firstly, although essentially a B-grade potboiler, the presence of Stanwyck, an A-list actress who was never afraid of crossing the tracks lifts it considerably above the routine, which it largely is in every other respect.

Told in flashback, Stanwyck plays ostensibly happily married Joan Phillips Boothe who goes with her reporter husband David (Robert Preston) to Las Vegas, then still in its infancy (one sees a handful of one-armed bandits in various scenes), who is doing a story on a new dam. A former reporter herself she thinks she might be able to do a story on gambling but before you can say “snake eyes” she is hooked and leaving her husband for a casino boss (Stephen McNally).

The script explains her addiction as the result of being brought up by her overbearing, neurotic sister (Edith Barrett) but this is where the film has a second level of interest, something which couldn’t be said (or perhaps even recognized) in the late 40s and that was that it is pretty evident that she takes to gambling and the fast life not because of some kind of self-loathing but because her husband is such a square (his role in her addiction is even raised at one point and explained away). The film skirts around the sexual issue, at one point intimating that she takes up prostitution to finance her addiction but just as the sex-starved spinster sister is blamed for Joan’s problems so we have the slap down in the opening scene, the resolution of her problems, of course, being the protection of her husband’s loving arms.

FYI: Tony Curtis (credit as Anthony Curtis) appears briefly as a bellhop.




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