Some “stars” are just too good looking to be kept apart so it should come as no surprise that the coolest member of The Rat Pack, Dean Martin should find himself starring opposite the blonde love goddess, Lana Turner in this comical tale of love and gambling that easily allows the many character players to rise up and steal scene after scene starting with number 2 man, Eddie Albert.
Daniel Mann directs while Edith Head is the costume designer for this so-so comedy where we find Dean and Lana a married couple. Dean’s a lawyer by trade and a compulsive gambler on the side. Lana is sure all these late night phone calls are from another woman. In truth it’s Dean’s bookie played by Lewis Charles calling for the latest bet and to deliver Dean the odds. Lana’s nosy maid convinces her that it’s another woman so Lana places a call to Dean’s partner at the firm, Eddie Albert. Eddie is a bit of a playboy himself and is sure Lana’s pleading over the phone is connected to her looking for a lover of her own. Eddie’s a delight as he sets up a romantic rendezvous behind Dino’s back. As Lana bears her soul to Eddie, he let’s her in on the fact that Dean doesn’t have women trouble, he’s got gambling trouble and debts to pay off.
Lana couldn’t be happier and sets out to plot and scheme her way into becoming Dean’s own silent bookie with the help of Eddie.
Eddie in turn drops a few hints with Dean that he’s got himself a new bookie with plenty of upside to the steady gambler. When Dean decides to place a bet, Lana is in over her head when the bet pays off at 17-1. She now owes her client/hubby $1700 large! It’s only going to get deeper for Lana as she starts peddling her jewelry and expensive furniture to pay off the bets and keep the loan shark happy who is fronting her the money.
Sound screwy? You bet and it’s only going to get better when the real money in the world of underground gambling played by mobster Walter Matthau wants to know why he’s losing some of his best clients/losers to an opposing criminal element. Dean has been sharing his sudden turn in good fortune with a couple of Judge’s on the bench played by John McGiver and Paul Ford. What’s Lana going to do when their latest bet puts her 18 Grand in the hole?
OK, this isn’t the greatest comedy of 1962 and it seems as if Dean might be on auto pilot. I blame the script for that. Mainly because I kept waiting for Dino to treat us and Lana to a song. The plot gives him a chance or two while wining and dining Lana. It isn’t until the final credits roll that we get a sampling of Dean singing the title track. Let’s call it an opportunity missed. For Lana this is one of her final films. It’s the last one of a comical nature and really the final time she’d be paired with a major leading man.
Though Eddie Albert’s role gets a bit smaller as the film progresses, I found him to come off best as the third wheel. He’s quite amusing in his attempts to at first seduce Lana behind buddy Dean’s back, then getting caught up in her game of gambling against his better judgement and finally taking it on the chin from Dean as Lana’s supposed lover. Matthau was at this time beginning to hit his stride and what’s interesting here is that his mob boss almost comes off as a parody of Brando’s Vito Corleone. Of course the problem is that this is ten years prior to Brando’s Oscar winning role as Don Vito. Perhaps Walter looked to Sheldon Leonard and his many hoodlum characters for inspiration. Either way, Walter gets funnier as the film progresses. Playing Walter’s “kept woman” is sexpot Nita Talbot who would like nothing better than for Walter to make an honest woman of her.
Things just might work out for all these wacky characters in the end. Each player here has a more memorable film on their resume but when you add it all up to seeing many of them interacting on the screen together, it makes the whole 90 minutes worth while.
I noticed it says on the poster ‘Based on the novel Four Horse Players are Missing’…does that title have anything to do with what happens in the movie?
Technically, yes. There missing as far as Matthau’s concerned. He isn’t cashing in off the wagers that they continually lose now that they have a new bookie.
I do not think Lana ever equalled her performance as Cora, in: ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, but one usually enjoys watching her on the screen. I should like to recommend an entertaining but not very good film, with Lana – again – as a scheming wife: ‘Portrait In Black’. (The only weak performance here is Anthony Quinn’s; he is truly awful.)
Totally agree with Lana never quite eclipsing her all time greatest role. Here’s a look back at an early “Take”….https://mikestakeonthemovies.com/2015/02/27/portrait-in-black-1960/