The Gambler

The Gambler (1980)

The Gambler comes up aces

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done”

I believe I can state without any fear of being accused of exaggeration when I say that never in the history of mankind have truer words been spoken than in the quote above. Also I must state that the power and profoundness of these words resonate even more so when you are drunk and singing them at the top of your lungs.

These words were of course written by the all-time greatest star of Western films – no, I’m not referring to Clint Eastwood. I’m also certainly not referring to John Wayne. I am indeed referring to Kenny Rogers, award winning musician and vastly underrated actor.

The Gambler album coverWhile most everyone is aware of the insanely catchy song “The Gambler” that was released in 1978, many people do not know that a film based on the song was produced. Not just one film mind you, but five films. This week I’ll be taking a look at the first film, which made its debut in 1980, simply titled The Gambler.

In The Gambler, Kenny Rogers plays Brady Hawkes, a war hero who walks with the aid of a cane. What he lacks in mobility he more than makes up for in charm, beard quality and poker skills.

Brady embarks on a journey from El Paso, Texas to Yuma, Arizona after receiving a letter from Jeremiah, the son he never even knew he had. Jeremiah and his mother are living with Rufe Bennett, an old poker rival of Brady’s who is abusive towards the pair. The film climaxes with a showdown between Brady and Rufe, where Brady shows that although he is an honest poker player, he does have a few tricks up his sleeve.

Along the way Brady meets up with Billy Montana, a smooth talking gambler who has a penchant for cheating. After saving Billy from getting flogged by a group of sore losers, Brady teaches Billy a lesson by winning all his money in a one-on-one game. As they ride the rails together, they become close friends as Billy learns that there are no shortcuts in life, and since poker is a metaphor for life, he shouldn’t be taking shortcuts while playing either.

The two also meet up with Jennie Reed, a former “lady of the evening”, or dirty whore as they are otherwise known. Jennie is trying hard to put her past behind her. However Arthur Stobridge, the owner of the railroad is traveling with them, and he makes it clear that the train isn’t the only thing he wants to be riding. Brady doesn’t like the way the lady is being talked to, leading to a very high stakes poker game between Brady and Stobridge.

It’s a true testament to The Gambler that a mere 25 years after the film was first broadcast, poker is now a staple on television. The folks over at ESPN owe a debt of gratitude to the adventures of Brady Hawkes.

If you enjoy Westerns or Kenny Rogers, then you will absolutely love The Gambler. If you don’t like Westerns or Kenny Rogers, then you are an idiot, plain and simple. Sorry, but there is no way to sugarcoat it. If you want to prove that you aren’t an idiot, then run out right now and purchase the recently released 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. It comes with the first two Gambler films, plus a CD containing Kenny’s greatest hits. Plus it comes in a tin, which has a button that plays a little bit of “The Gambler” when pressed. It will surely surpass your college education as the most important purchase you have made.

As a song, and as a film, The Gambler cannot be beat. Kenny Rogers is holding a Royal Flush in his hands, while all others merely have a pair of twos, a five, a nine and a Community Chest card from Monopoly that has somehow made its way into the deck.

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