Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The young DVD label NoShame is releasing a string of Sergio Martino films, which vary from gialli slashers to crime thrillers like this Milan-based story about the adventures of a handsome card cheat. Martino directs with assurance and the film is handsomely shot, but the script is a letdown. Gambling City starts with some diverting touches and soon descends into lazy plot turns that keep it from being more than middling exploitation fare.
Cocky card sharp Luca Altieri (Luc Merenda) wins a job cheating for a wheelchair-bound casino owner called the President (Enrico Maria Salerno). He soon conflicts with his boss's decadent and ambitious son, Corrado (Corrado Pani) by sleeping with his sultry mistress Maria Luisa (Dayle Haddon). This drives a wedge between father and son and leads to brutal crimes and eventually murder. Luca and Maria Luisa stick together, forming an emotional bond incompatible with Luca's risky lifestyle.
Gambling City gets off to a rousing start, with Luc Merenda's spirited cheat happily
admitting his tricks to a casino employee as he exits in an elevator. But the elevator instead
goes to the basement where the President's thugs are waiting.
Luca goes to work gambling for the top racketeer and naturally cannot stay out of trouble.
Gambling City then becomes just another tale of handsome hero versus scummy gangsters.
Luca is severely beaten by Corrado's thugs while Corrado has his hulking chauffeur Lisander
(Giovanni Javarone) strip and rape Maria Luisa, as just a minor punishment. The balance of the
story is a tiresome string of events aimed at what used to be called 'undiscriminating' audiences.
A leading cop demands a bribe, prompting an assassination sequence easy to see in advance. We're
shown an elaborate staircase lift for the President's wheelchair, and immediately prepare for
a replay of the famous scene from Kiss of Death.
Gambling City maintains a higher state of interest at the gaming tables. An amusingly
playful opening poker sequence is balanced by a later shipboard game with a rich American
in which Luca finally decides to play smart to avoid a trap. The acting is also better
than the usual, with Luc Merenda showing more flexibility than bigger Italian genre idols
like Franco Nero or Tomas Milian. Star Dayle Haddon's career later veered into
softcore Euro-porn and sputtered out much later in the Cannon film Cyborg, yet she also
demonstrates a range beyond her sex scenes. Particularly good as the crippled racketeer
is Enrico Maria Salerno, a character actor in a wide range of genres. He is also said
to have provided the Italian voice for Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone Dollars series
of Spaghetti westerns.
Martino's directing shows both style and invention in the poker scenes, even if it's hard
to believe that Luca wouldn't be immediately caught palming cards. Action is crisply
staged and cameraman Giancarlo Ferrando uses his zoom lens with discretion. The only
painful content are the dated musical montages showing Luca riding his motorbike with
two casual pickups or romping on the beach with Maria Luisa. Luciano Michelini's score
alternates between a so-so main theme and a suspense cue that mimics Isaac Hayes'
blaxploitation sound bed for Shaft.
Gambling City's obvious plot turns make the film seem longer than its 101 minutes.
Martino and writer Ernesto Gastaldi set up a sentimental ending, but it's asking a lot
for us to seriously care about Luca, a crook fleecing other crooks, and the attempt at a
bittersweet finale has little effect. Both Martino and Gastaldi had long careers writing
and working around lower-tier Italian exploitation thrillers, and Gambling City
shapes up as a passable but undistinguished entertainment.
NoShame's DVD of Gambling City is a handsome presentation of a picture that probably
never looked this good outside of first-run theaters in Rome. The transfer is mastered
in High Def, allowing for an NTSC down-conversion that doesn't speed up the frame rate
to the European standard. Colors are fine and the enhanced widescreen image is sharp and clear.
NoShame is giving its Sergio Martino series ample extras for curious collectors. Director
Martino, cameraman Ferrando and star Merenda (still looking fit) appear in a twenty minute
interview doc called Chatting with the Cheaters. Martino comes off as a likeable
businessman and is forthcoming with pertinent details. Merenda contributes a full
commentary track and does a lot of idle praising of coworkers, etc.
A welcome booklet features two brief essays. Matthew Weisman sketches Martino's
commercially oriented career. The capable Richard Harland Smith analyzes Gambling
City's references to older crime films in a gallant search for notable merit. He pegs
the soapy ending as an echo of A Farewell to Arms, when Martino was probably
angling for an easy Love Story fade-out. We agree that the director referenced
Killer's Kiss with his fight in a mannequin factory, but the classic borrowings
don't mean much because the script does so little with them. Martino would seem to be
an efficient director of undemanding genre fare. If he thinks Gambling City is
an Italian version of The Sting he's both fooling himself and admitting his
lack of originality.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Gambling City rates:
Movie: Good -
Supplements: Docu, commentary, still gallery, trailer, insert essays
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 7, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson