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

Cohen and Tate (1988) The Hit-Man, The Psycho And The Kid Go For A Drive

OK! I know I’ve been missing in action for what seems like eon’s to me. I’ve been desperately struggling to clamber my way back to do this amazing hobby I so love. Promised myself I wouldn’t keep apologising and say sorry for being away all the time, so, sorry. Doh! “Dabnamit Wolfboy! hold it together man!“. I’m just dipping my filthy big clawed foot back into the paddling pool to see if I can find a way to scribble smaller, maybe quicker reviews. Before, I tentatively look back at the drafts and try tackle the backlog of half written film articles I’d started months back.

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My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Thatchers Britain With Gay Love and Soap Suds

The 80s was a weird and wonderful time. My era. Generation X. Born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. Video rental, smoking cigarettes behind the school bike shed, underage drinking, sniffing glue!…… and those dreaded “Thatcher Years“! Good old Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dividing the nation. Tory rule went on forever. It always felt bleak times. Constantly surrounded by the threat of nuclear destruction, the narrative of pop culture at the time. Music videos and TV shows were awash with images of the triad of superpowers. America, The UK and Russia, all with itchy trigger fingers ready to push the button… Sniff some more glue! Vast unemployment swept across the land. Three million and counting were numbers said to be out of work and claiming benefits on the dole. The miners strikes, Greenham Common CND protests and the AIDS epidemic filled the news cycle… Pass the Evo-Stik!

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Night of the Juggler (1980) Thanos’s Dad Rips Through NYC To Find His Kidnapped Girl

Lieutenant Tonelli (Richard S. Castellano) raced up the steps as fast as he could for a round man like himself. Out of breath he took charge of the crime scene. What now? You could see it washed over his face, he’d seen it all, it was a constant in his life. Crime of New York City coming at him twenty four seven. “What’s it this time?” he shouts. The duty cop replies, “It’s another bomb threat from those Puerto Rican National Liberation Front lot.” “You gotta be kidding! Not them again!” He takes a deep breathe, exhales, and shakes his head whilst rubbing his temples. “I gotta feeling it’s gonna be another goddamn New York day!” He wasn’t wrong. Lt Tonelli would soon be caught up with the carnage about to hit his New York streets.

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