When most people think of gambling films, they think of Casino or 21 or just about anything 007. But there are several great gambling movies – more than a few of them made outside the U.S. – that are just as worth watching as the big-name Hollywood films. Among these is La Città Gioca d'Azzardo.
Film History, Cast & Crew – Gambling City
La Città Gioca d'Azzardo, aka “Gambling City” and “The Cheaters”, is an Italian heist film directed by Sergio Martino. Released in Italy in 1974, it was one of several gambling movies made in response to the popularity of The Sting (1973), an American film about con men and their schemes.
La Città Gioca d'Azzardo was co-written by Director Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi, and produced by Martino’s brother, Luciano. It stars Luc Merenda, Dayle Haddon and Corrado Pani.
Plot Summary – La Città Gioca d'Azzardo Gambling Movie
The film tells the story of Luca (Merenda) and Corrado (Pani), two young Italian gamblers seeking love, respect and success, each at the other’s expense. Luca is a poor prankster and self-proclaimed poker cheat. Corrado is the hot-tempered, self-entitled heir to an illegal gambling empire.
Scenes – La Città Gioca d'Azzardo Gambling Movie
La Città Gioca d'Azzardo begins with Luca entering an underground gambling parlor in Milan. He takes a seat at the hi-roller table where each chip is 10,000 lira and the stakes are unlimited. The table’s players are dressed in James Bond-esque tuxedos, but Luca wears threadbare slacks and a cardigan with a carnation in its lapel. When asked if he has the funds to back his bets, he smiles and says “Win or bust.”
Luca feigns ignorance. He fumbles his cards and requests a new deal when he receives four Queens, explaining that it’s fishy to start with such a good hand. His antics, however, give way to a well-honed cheating scheme, and within minutes, he’s fleeced the other players.
While he waits for the elevator that is to be his exit, he admits to cheating. The casino security guard by his side admits that the elevator isn’t an exit.
It’s here that the plot of Gambling City – poor man battles rich man for the affections of a forbidden woman and a chance at redemption – gets underway.
Luca is taken further underground where he is introduced to the gambling den’s wheelchair-bound owner, known only as `The President'. He is impressed with Luca’s cheating skills and eager to employ him. Soon, Luca is scamming the den’s patrons and splitting his winnings with the house.
Things go well until Luca falls in love with Maria Luisa, the girlfriend of Corrado, the scoundrel son of ‘The President’. It’s at this point that the violence, conflict and hijinx, which include fight sequences, car chases and intense poker showdowns, really take off.
As far as gambling movies go, La Città Gioca d'Azzardo is pretty good. It’s got some clever dialogue and several violent and well-choreographed fight scenes. The combined effect is a sort of Charlie Chaplin / Martin Scorsese mashup, wherein you don’t know if you should laugh or wince at what you’re watching.
The actors do a good job (at least by 1974 acting standards) of playing their parts: Merenda is a dapper gadabout; Pani is utterly contemptible – so much so that you nearly cheer at his incendiary comeuppance; and Haddon is gorgeous in her role as the damsel in distress.
The story moves along at an entertaining, although too topical pace, and there are some great cinematographic moments, namely those that involve the sleights of hand seen from the up-close purview of Luca.
The one strange aspect of the film is the score, which calls to mind something between the distorted wind-up chime of a broken Jack-in-the-Box and the Merry-go-Round accordion music that’s played in scary movies just before someone gets his head chopped off. To say the music is bad would be incorrect because once you get used to it, you can’t imagine it any other way. But it is inappropriate and turns scenes that are supposed to be harrowing, into comedy sketches.
Still, at 101 minutes, it’s worth watching.