For Reel


The Big Gamble (1931)
June 25, 2016, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Fred Niblo
3 Stars
The Big GambleThis proto-noir sees William Boyd (later of Hopalong Cassidy fame) play gambler Alan Beckwith, who out of world-weary desperation comes to the conclusion that the only way to get out of his debt is to kill himself. For no particular reason, he agrees to a deal with the shady Andrew North (Warner Oland), who has proposed to take out a life insurance policy on Boyd that he can collect on a year later. When North arranges for Beckwith to marry Beverly Ames (Dorothy Sebastian) as a means of collecting the insurance profits, one can imagine that complications that might arise as Beckwith’s promised day of death draws near. If the performers are uniformly lackluster and the script doesn’t do them many favors, The Big Gamble is elevated significantly by its remarkable visual style. Cinematographer Hal Mohr uses expressive lighting in a way that predicts the film noirs of the 1940s, suiting the fatalistic narrative quite well. More impressive is a remarkable car chase in the finale, which occurs on darkened city streets with fluid camerawork and an exciting rhythm provided by editor Joseph Kane. Boyd conveys neither his sense of hopelessness or is convincing as a man with a new lease on life, but Oland (the first of the actors to play Charlie Chan) is amusing as the devious reprobate who is all too eager to collect on the deal.

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