House of Games (1987) Shrinks, Stings And Scams In The Shady Shadows

There I was sat in a Travelodge. Shoes kicked off and socks still steaming. I drooled at my prize. A 4 Piece Colonel’s Meal for one. Pillow placed on seat for maximum buttocks comfort. I winked at the four real ale bottles lined up awaiting to go. You see, I had deserved this treat. Friday and Saturday I’d danced non-stop til the twilight hours. Tonight, I’d danced again. The mind was willing but the legs were tired, shattered if I tell no lie. Like an old fool, I carried on. Still, I knew I’d finish early and treat myself. So you now see why my socks were steaming, honestly, they didn’t hum. My ears did, still do, ha. The bass still rattled around in my chest. I was content but now I had hungry eyes. Mikey does loves me chicken.

I’d planned this earlier night. Found a few films that I hadn’t seen before and loaded up a flash drive. I’d been recommended The Spanish Prisoner (1997). I hadn’t seen it. Hesitant to see Steve Martin connected to a drama thriller? Had I seen him do serious before? I don’t know. What intrigued my interest more was the writer, director David Mamet when I spied though his credits. Most his directed films had glowing reviews. I hadn’t heard of any before? I switched to hit up his writing credits!

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Wag The Dog (1997) and Ronin (1998) to name a few until my finger slammed the breaks on the mouse wheel! The Untouchables (1987), really? Ok, Steve Martin’s serious acting chops can wait, I’m gonna check out David’s debut directing duties first. A 1987 thriller called House Of Games. The posters tagline grabbed hold of me…..

Tagline – “Human Nature Is A Sucker Bet!”

Excited I simultaneously press play, guzzled beer and began to rub chicken grease all over my face.

Chain smoking psychiatrist Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) had just published a book. A detailed study in the field of obsessive compulsive disorder. It was called “DRIVEN: Obsession and Compulsion in Everyday Life“. It was selling well and she’d received much accolades and success. Yet, she was still unfulfilled and hungry to learn more about the human condition. Maybe she suffered from her obsession? It drove her, motivated her, kept her ruthlessly working and discovering.

Billy (Steven Goldstein) was one of her patients. He’d turned up late, anxious and twitchy. Billy was a compulsive gambler. His addiction had resulted in a large debt to a local hoodlum working out of a pool hall called the House of Games. Billy was in despair. He had a gun. Would he kill himself or others? Margaret’s calm negotiation skills come into play. Reassuring Billy, she promises to help him, if he gives her the revolver.

Later that night Margaret takes a little trip to this House of Games. With balls of steel she tracks down this shady small time gangster called Mike Mancuso (Joe Mantegna). Instantly they charm each other with equal intrigue. Mike is taken with this brazen straight talking lady coming into this world, demanding he drop the debt that Billy owes. Margaret on the other hand is seduced by this dark underworld and relishes the opportunity to learn, to study. Mike has a simple job to wipe Billy’s slate clean. All she has to do is join his poker game as his girl and keep a steady eye on the high stakes gambler he’s battling.

You see, Mike has noticed that the guy has a “tell”, a subconscious give away. When putting down a bet he slowly spins his ring on his finger. The problem Mike has is the guy has realised he does it and stopped. It’s a long shot but if he takes a toilet break the guy might start twiddling with his “tell” when he’s out the room. Could Margaret help? The excitement draws her in and she lights up another cigarette…

House of Games is an expertly written thriller. Not only that, it’s filming and dialogue harks back to the age of Film Noir. It’s all dark shadows, seedy alleys and no nonsense conversations and dodgy eye glances. Filled with dubious characters. This is a perfect example of Neo Noir I’d say. It would make a fantastic double bill alongside the Coen Brothers equally outstanding directorial debut, Blood Simple (1984).

Yep, I have no idea how this one passed me by? However, I’m extremely thankful it did as it was such a joy to watch. There’s enough twists and turns, slight glimpses of humor at times and just the right amount of dated cheese to make you smile. It’s a fantastic crime thriller.

IMDB Rating 7.2/10

Mikey Wolfman’s Rating 8.5/10

Here’s a few things I learn whilst writing this…

  • Leading lady Lindsay Crouse has had a great career with many varied TV roles from recurring roles in Hill Street Blues and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And films like Slap Shot (1977) Prince of the City (1981) Communion (1989) and The Arrival (1996). And the one I learnt today was she dubbed the voice from Princess Lyssa in the science fiction fantasy film, that I so adored as a kid, Krull (1983)
  • The legendary American stage magician and sleight of hand grandmaster, Ricky Jay also stars.
  • Lindsay Crouse was married to David Mamet.
  • Leading man Joe Mantegna also has a huge list of roles on his CV. But best of all has to go to Fat Tony in The Simpsons! Also many will know him from 15 years of playing David Rossi in the TV series Criminal Minds, which is still running. A few film picks would be, Eye for an Eye (1996), Above Suspicion (1995), The Godfather Part III and also playing the producer Harry Flugleman in one of the greatest films ever madeโ€ฆ. The Three Amigos (1986).
  • Along with Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna would work with David Mamet on many of his productions. I’ve not seen any? So please feel free to recommend away.

Yeah I know, I’ve been away for so long. So I’m easing my way back into my film blog. It was good to try and shake some rust off. House of Games made me think how much I love this hobby. It put a spark back in the old engine. I hope to return more. Let me know if you liked this film, any tidbits of info and recommendations on any connected films to all involved if you wish.

Keep watching that square screen and having fun.

Mikey Wolfman

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23 thoughts on “House of Games (1987) Shrinks, Stings And Scams In The Shady Shadows

  1. Omg, before even getting to the review, where do I start with my appreciation for the setup that had me chortling ahead of time?
    With the: “Shoes kicked off and socks still steaming”?
    The drooling at your prize–the 4 Piece Colonelโ€™s Meal for one?
    The pillow placed on seat for maximum buttocks comfort?
    Four bottles of ale lines up?
    Or the hilarious conclusion: “I guzzled beer and began to rub chicken grease all over my face”……?
    LOL
    Great review too. I remember all of those actors, but I never saw this movie! It looks good!
    I also did NOT know Mr. Martin was in any kind of drama. Interesting. He wrote a book called Shop Girl a while ago that I liked a lot. A multi-talented guy.
    I just looked up Mamet to see how long he and Clouse were married and discovered he used to be liberal but had some kind of epiphany and sea change to extreme conservatism in 2008. He wrote an article in the Village Voice called “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-dead Liberal,” which, of course, already rubs me the wrong way, ’cause he could have easily have called it “Why I Am No Longer a Liberal,” right? Unless, of course, he PERSONALLY was brain-dead about being a liberal, in his own way, and he’s not saying that all liberals are brain dead, lol.
    Well, I’m gonna go arrange my pillows now for maximum buttocks comfort and try to get some writing done!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I did miss and do so enjoy being silly when I can on this blog. Made me happy that you picked up those parts. I was going to add “I hope they change those pillows in the hotel or the next guest gonna be dreaming of fried chicken” hehe.
      I never knew Steve Martin wrote novels. Great to hear you enjoyed his storytelling.
      Haha maybe we can pass this buttocks pillow around and when it’s at it’s most fruity we can lend it to Mamet to lay his “brain dead” liberal head on. Sure the aromas would enlighten him. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to see you on here Stacey ๐Ÿ™‚ I too remember that David Mamet article ๐Ÿ™‚ Mamet writes great dialogue ๐Ÿ™‚ As for his political beliefs, I think his choosing to align with the right is a damned If you damned If you don’t decision or at least for me it is because right now, both parties seem to be unpopular in different ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nice to see you TOO, John! Hey, just to be clear, I completely agree with you. I care not which way people align themselves, actually. I just thought adding “brain-dead” was a little over the top, unless he just meant him for himself personally. I probably should have read the essay first before commenting so I have my facts straight, right? But it’s true, nobody can win, either way, nowadays.

        Liked by 2 people

        • BTW Stacey, my blog entry regarding my top 10 favorite films of all time, my top 10 favorite American/English-Language films of all time and my top 10 favorite foreign films of all time is now up on my blog ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          • I thought I saw that! I think I missed at least one. Thanks for telling me. Hey, Mikey, John’s top 10 favs are up. See you in there later, maybe!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Mikey, welcome back! Glad you scored some fried chicken and liquid refreshment while you watched…not a bad way to spend a weekend with a movie. I saw this one when it played in theaters, and haven’t seen it since; I only remember one moment, and it had to do with the gun during the poker game….and that I noticed something odd, and realized I’d predicted what was coming.

    And yes, Ronin! One of my favorite action thrillers, that doesn’t get many accolades, and I can’t figure out why. I love Frankeheimer’s direction, and his audio commentary on the DVD is one of the most entertaining and educational I’ve ever heard. Well worth a listen if you ever get the chance.

    As for Steve Martin…well, I’d say his most outstanding dramatic work would be for Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Todd for the welcome back. OOOo seeing it in the cinema must of been awesome. Great spot on the gun. A great little scene.
      I have to confess to having not seen Ronin for sometime. Remember the car chase really stealing the picture. What a car chase it is too. I’ve watched that many times. You know what dude I really need to go back and watch it again as you made think, I can’t recall what it was about LOL…
      Then I can check that great recommendation of yours out, to check into the commentary.
      Forgot it was dirtected by John Frankenheimer. Damn that guy made some mightly fine films.

      Yes Dead Men Donโ€™t Wear Plaid! what a fun brilliant film. Yes he’s definitely dead pan serious in that hehe. Another I’d like to see again. Maybe over xmas!

      Thanks buddy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post there Wolfy ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to rewatch House of Games again in the future ๐Ÿ™‚ Wonderful review as always ๐Ÿ™‚ I do not know If you heard, but Sight & Sound magazine came out with their 10 year annual poll of what critics and filmmakers think are the greatest films of all time ๐Ÿ™‚ If you did hear about it, I would be interested in your thoughts ๐Ÿ™‚ I just did a blog entry about it on my site Thursday ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, keep up the great work as always ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey JC. I had not heard of that critics greatest film list on Sight and Sound. Definitely going for a different angle.
      Never even heard of number 1 before. What a title. You’d deep sigh being the guy on the cinema letter sign changer when that turned up!
      “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”.
      Does sound great and something I’d like to see but at 3hrs 20 mins I’m not sure when I’d fit it in.
      Rear Window might replace Vertigo for me?
      Thanks for the heads up.
      Will pop on over to see what you say when I can.
      All the best
      Mikey

      Liked by 1 person

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