Judge Bill Gibron remembers when Pong was the only game in town.
Torn between two lovers and definitely feeling like a fool.
Fran (Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) is an aging showgirl who finds herself adrift in a Las Vegas of sin and sadness. Into her life walks a pianist—and gambling addict—named Joe (Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy) who keeps losing his earnings at the casino tables. She's drawn to him, but still hopes that her married lover (Charles Braswell) will leave his wife, sweep her off her feet, and take her far, far away. Joe, on the other hand, just wants to earn enough to get out of town once and for all. Together, they forge a rocky relationship filled with desperation, determination, and way too much dialogue.
That's right. The Only Game in Town is one conversation-heavy obscurity. Based on a play by The Subject Was Roses' Frank D. Gilroy, it was considered a comedy when it opened on Broadway in 1968 (where is closed rather quickly). Thanks to a Pulitzer for Roses and the eventual Oscar win by Jack Albertson for his supporting role in the film version, the playwright saw Game quickly optioned and spun into a starring vehicle for a then-38-year-old Taylor and her 33 year old co-star. Beatty was hot off his breakthrough in Bonnie and Clyde (for which he earned his own Academy Award nomination) and his leading lady had just bagged her second gold statue for Woolf, so star power and acting ability were clearly not a question. The material, on the other hand…
Yes, this is a dated descent into sudsy Sin City melodrama, an unintentional laugher that pits a couple of miscast celebrities struggling to make sense of their onscreen personalities. Taylor, for her part, is so laid back and lethargic that even her moments on stage (clearly a double until the close-ups impose the icon's famous face on the proceedings)come across as the dance of the dead. Beatty, on the other hand, appears jacked up on the possibility of a career as one of Hollywood's leading hunks, and he's all in. Sitting behind the lens and trying to make sense of it all is the late, great George Stevens who shows little of his known brilliance here. This would be his last film before he retired, eventually dying five years later, in 1975. For his part, he tries to open things up a bit, giving us some nostalgic glimpses of the Vegas strip of old, but Gilroy more or less meant this as two people gabbing at each other and that's what Only Game the film really is.
Offered in an 1.84:1 widescreen image that's good, but not great, The Only Game in Town is getting a limited edition Blu-ray release from distributor Twilight Time. Only 3000 copies will be available, so if you are a big fan of this film, make sure to grab one before they're all gone. From a tech spec standpoint, the transfer is terrific, if a bit problematic. Remember, this is early '70s filmmaking we are talking about, so any rear projection or bad greenscreen situations are only amplified by the HD update. Similarly, while the colors pop and there's a nice level of detail, the overall picture is a bit soft and grainy. On the sound side of things, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono manages the constant stream of spoken words rather well. Maurice Jarre also adds a jazzy, jokey score, and the mix handles both with ease. As for added content, there is a trailer and an opportunity to hear the composer's work sans yakking. It's interesting, if not rather superfluous.
Over the years, The Only Game in Town has been relegated to the also-ran bin of both stars incredible creative oeuvre. Fans could only catch it as part of some Late, Late Show feature, or Saturday afternoon repast. Now, you can own you own copy of this intriguing oddity. You won't enjoy it as a movie, but as a statement of the star power involved, it's a keen curiosity.
Guilty. A grind except for the most devoted Taylor and/or Beatty fan.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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