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 made…. 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

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) Let’s Meet The Cast That Put The Censor’s Knickers In A Twist

Miss Blandish is far removed from bland, she is a total knockout. A beauty that has all men weak at the knees. Her good looks isn’t all her good fortune, you see her father is one of the wealthiest men in the city. Worth a cool 100 million dollars. Of course, her father keeps a watchful eye on his precious daughters socialising and organised the right suitor for his treasure. Young Miss Blandish is set up with boring, older gentlemen that dote on her and promise the world. She on the other hand was cold and aloof. She desired something wild, someone rugged, maybe dangerous. As the heiress to incredible amounts of money she was bound to turn heads. Soon her life would be caught up with petty criminals, thugs and gangsters.. Lets meet them…

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The Big Caper (1957) Let’s Meet The Bank Heist Gang.

A cool million dollars with a whole stack of change was sat waiting within the bank vault. The California Bank, in the small town of San Felipe, would hold the hefty payload over the weekend, ready for the payroll for every single Monday. It was too much to think even about. Sat there smiling, ready for the taking. Too tempting not to. What was needed for The Big Caper was an expert gang with a perfect plan. Lets meet them…

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Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) Sly Dirk Bogarde Just Loves Those Older Ladies

Edward “Teddy” Bare (Dirk Bogarde) looked well shifty. There was something about him. His handsome good looks were a facade that hid a sinister charm. You see, Edward had a thing for older ladies. Putty in his hands they would become. It wasn’t a fetish for cougars or a domineering mature mother figure that he needed. No, there was a criteria that had to be fulfilled if he was to spend his time dating an older lady. You guess it, money, they had to be rich. He had caught one too. A sweet older lady called Monica (Mona Washbourne). In whirlwind romance they were married.

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The Public Enemy (1931) The Grapefruit Gangster WTF Spoiler Filled Look Back

STOP! Pull on the brakes. Halt there in your tracks my dear movie loving friend. This is a spoiler filled post for The Public Enemy. Well, it’s more of a WTF look back to what happened in the film I just watched. Please turnaround and return when you have seen it or if you really don’t care, then be warned the surprises will be mentioned and spoiled.

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The Window (1949) And The Tragic Case Of Bobby Driscoll

Firstly, anyone heard “crying wolf” anywhere around me will be getting a jolly good telling off, that’s for sure. Using my esteemed name in vain, well whatever next? Further more, wolf’s don’t cry! And don’t listen to those wicked rumours about that wolf shaped ball of fluff, whimpering and sobbing at the back of the Odeon cinema in 1999 during the opening scene of Disney’s Tarzan. It simply wasn’t true, it was not! Sniffles. Oh no, I’ve just thought back to it. “Oh dang it! pass the tissues, please!“. Ok the legend of the crying wolf is true so I’ll let you use the quotation for the Aesop’s Fable to start the film.

Opening intro –The boy cried ‘wolf’. ‘Wolf’ several times and each time the people came to help him they found that there wasn’t any ‘wolf.”

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The Asphalt Jungle (1950) A Robbery In The Sin Sodden Shadows Of A Noir Soaked City

No messing around. Lets drop the score. Yep it’s a straight 10. Been sitting on The Asphalt Jungle for a while. You know the feeling. You know full well that it’s gonna hit the spot. Enough people have nudged me. I’m sure you’re like me? It’s gotta be the right time, you want that perfect time. That perfect head space to sit back and let it flood over you. Last night was that time. Damn man! Was it fantastic! Ready to watch it again. Not only did it look incredible and believable, you could feel the sweat and hot heads bursting through the screen. All the characters felt rounded and real. Every single player dropped into the drama. They all linked perfectly up with the other. Each move, how big or small, effected the next play like a chain of events that fell fateful into place. The darkness, the grimy opening dirty streets. The sweat, the tension, the running and the pounding of fists.

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Moonrise (1948) Bad Killer Blood Runs Through His Veins

Off I set on another of my travels through film. This time Moonrise from 1948. Didn’t know much about it. The way I like it. Only recently stumbled across it. A film noir it says. I guessed the usual crime filled drama affair? Had to have a love story, you can see that on the movie poster (Haha not the image I used). In I went! All nice and chilled with the opening credits accompanied with a full orchestra bashing out a melody of uplifting, stirring strings……. until then!…

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