Judge Patrick Naugle has mastered the art of knowing "when to run away and hide."
"On a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere…"
Easy going Brady Hawkes (country superstar Kenny Rogers, Six Pack) is a man who has seen much during his time as a professional gambler…except the son that he's never met. When his long lost child writes him a letter explaining who he is, Hawkes boards a train bound for a reunion. Along the way Hawkes meets up with a charming young gambler, Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner, Tron: Legacy), and a young woman traveling across the country to see her husband (Christine Belford, Christine). Will Brady Hawkes find redemption in the eyes of his young son? Will Billy Montana learn to put his cheating ways aside and play poker fair and square? And most importantly, will anyone utter the famous phrase, "You got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em"?
In the pantheon of story songs, none may be as great as Kenny Rogers' epic "The Gambler." Released in 1978 and written by Don Schiltz, "The Gambler" tells the story of a man riding a train in the middle of the night and meeting up with a mysterious stranger known only as 'the gambler'. The old timer departs wisdom about playing poker and living life to the fullest to the storyteller—what cards to keep, reading people's eyes, and never counting your money at the table. The song is immensely catchy, filled with humor and even a touch of bitter sweetness as "somewhere in the darkness" the gambler "breaks even" on his final train ride into the darkness. So of course, let's make it into a movie!
The Gamber was a made-for-TV film based loosely on the Kenny Rogers song (which indeed shows up over the opening credit sequence). Of course, you can't make an entire movie about a guy riding a train and getting poker advice, so the story has been expanded to include multiple characters and stories, with a bearded Kenny Rogers swirling around the center of the film as Brady Hawkes (a variation on the old time gambler in the song). Rogers has an easy if not totally electric personality on screen. Rogers comes off as a big burly bear of a man, like a kindly middle aged uncle who lives in a log cabin in the middle of the mountains. Like many singers who decide to become actors, it's often hard to see Kenny Rogers the actor because Kenny Rogers the singer keeps getting in the way. Bruce Boxleitner could be seen as the voice of the storyteller from the title song, a young and impetuous professional gambler who learns that cheaters never win (nor earn the respect of the man who has Dolly Parton's phone number on his speed dial). The supporting cast is made up of some familiar faces, including Clu Gulagar (The Last Picture Show) as Brady's son's ill-tempered stepfather, Harold Gould (Love and Death) as a high powered and feisty railroad baron named Stowbridge, and Christine Belford as Eliza, the woman who helps both Rogers and Boxlietner along the way.
I'm sure it will come as no surprise that The Gambler wraps up exactly as you'd expect it to end: with a high stakes poker game between Stowbridge, Hawkes, and Montana. I won't spoil the outcome for those who haven't seen the film, but I will say this: if you can't guess who walks away the winner, welcome to your first every Hollywood movie! The Gambler doesn't break any new ground in the western genre—its light as a marshmallow and just as substantial. Then again, it wasn't meant to have the scope of a John Ford film or the depth of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Its purpose is to be a heartwarming story about a man trying to connect with his young son, and another man learning to play the game (the subtext being life) the way it was meant to be played: honestly. Those who saw The Gambler when it first appeared on TV will certainly love the fact it's now on Blu-ray to revisit over and over again.
The Gambler is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. I would have bet dollars to donuts that The Gambler was originally filmed in 1.33:1 full frame (and at the very least shown on TV that way), but on Blu-ray fans get to see it in all its widescreen glory (weather it has been cropped into widescreen is an unknown). Either way, Timeless Media's presentation of The Gambler looks good, but not great. There's a surprising about of imperfection in the image (speckles of dirt, grain and hairs) and the image never really pops off the screen. I'm guessing that this is the best The Gambler will ever look.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in English. This is a very front heavy audio mix that doesn't really feature much in the way of dynamic range (the biggest boost comes from the title song over the credits). Dialogue, music, and effects are all well recorded and easily distinguishable. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
Not only are there no extra features to be found on this first ever Blu-ray edition of The Gambler (except for a standard DVD version), viewers don't even get a chapter menu or audio selections. This is about as bare bones as it gets.
It didn't set the world on fire, but it's not a terrible nostalgic time
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