Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kenny Rogers, Bruce Boxleitner (TRON, BABYLON 5), Clu Gulager (TAPEHEADS, THE KILLERS), Harold Gould (THE STING, SILENT MOVIE), Lee Purcell (MR. MAJESTYK, VALLEY GIRL), Noble Willingham (CHINATOWN, NORMA RAE, THE HOWLING). Song "The Gambler" written by Don Schlitz and performed by Kenny Rogers.
Tag-line: "You Got To Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Fold Em... "
Best one-liner: "The question is... which two of you are willing to take the bullets?"
It was bound to happen. One of the great narrative songs of the modern era had to be turned into one of the great television movies of the modern era. And what a song it is. Written by a man named Don Schlitz, it sees a meeting between two gamblers on a train bound for nowhere, fast. The elderly gambler offers the younger cardsharp some (now legendary) advice in exchange for his last swallow of whiskey. After taking that final swig, the elderly gambler dispenses his advice, puts out his cigarette, and dies. For the record, Kenny Rogers sings the song in character as the younger man, yet in the movie he plays the older character with Bruce Boxleitner as the up-and-comer. Also, the whole 'dying' bit was excised (there were four sequels).
Kenny Rogers petitions Boxleitner for his final sip of whiskey.
Anyway, Kenny Rogers stars as Brady Hawkes, a dude who knows when to hold 'em, knows when to fold 'em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run, and who never counts his money when he's sitting at the table because there shall plenty of time to calculate one's winnings after the game has drawn to a close.
Personal hero Clu Gulager co-stars as a wife-beatin', woman-stealin', kid-nappin', gunslingin' Kenny Rogers nemesis. Gulager, as always, shines like a artistic supernova, packing the surly 'Rufe Bennett' with so much pathos that you nearly are rooting for him. Bruce Boxleitner even gets in on the action as the up-and-comer gambler ready to take up Kenny's mantle. But when the cards fall, the chips are down, and there's no more aces left in holes, things aren't as black and white as you'd think. THE GAMBLER ends up being about how tough life is for us all– no heroes here. No villains here. Just regular folk tryin' to catch a break.
And now I shall end with a montage of screen captures of Clu Gulager in his natural habitat.
CLU GULAGER RUNS A SALOON AND EXUDES PATHOS
CLU GULAGER GETS THE LADIES AND GRINS LIKE A SMART-ALECK
CLU GULAGER WILL MIX YOU A DRINK
CLU GULAGER WILL STRIKE A CHILD IF HE HAS TO
CLU GULAGER WILL...get punched out by Kenny Rogers?- Ah, well, Clu was always subject to ignominious defeats, just watch THE KILLERS.
So alright, gents, I'm gonna raise you four stars. And then I'm gonna fold. Gonna walk away and leave you with 'em. Why? Cause you earned 'em, goddammit.