The casinos we see in film are invariably different to those we lose our money at in real life.
Stakes are always high, fortune comes at the turn of a card and you can bet your last chip there’s a portly Texan wearing a giant cowboy hat stood behind a couple of newlyweds about to roll snake eyes. But of course we don't mind the cliche because, let's face it, this oft-used film location never fails to heighten the drama.
So join us as we visit 10 of the best...
You don’t cross Robert De Niro’s Ace Rothstein, loosely based on Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, the mob associate who ran a throng of Las Vegas casinos for the Chicago Outfit back in the '70s. Composed, level-headed, business-like, it’s easy to see why the mob favour Ace to front their operations, which he does so with a real mean streak when necessary. Just as one bootless cowboy finds to his detriment, resting his socks atop a casino table before being ejected from the venue head-first. It’s just one of the parts of Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film which makes it such a triumph.
Narrowly topping Sean Connery’s raffish behavior in Dr No as our favourite 007-related gambling scene, Casino Royale’s poker pièce de résistance gets better with every watch. The film manages to cram in an assassination attempt, bone-crunching stairwell tussle and some fully-clothed showering between sessions at the swish titular Monte Carlo residence, and still the best hand-to-hand combat remains firmly on the table, with creepy ambiance provided by Mads Mikkelsen's blood-weeping villain, as Vesper Lynd’s unorthodox encouragement ('If you lose, our government will have directly financed terrorism’) rolls around our hero's head.
The dizzying whirl of fruit machines, the clang of prize bell, the sexy saxophone hallmark that tells you this is a cool eighties drama starring Tom Cruise, and of course those suits - this set-up in Rain Man, which sees the card counting pair begin to get lucky, drawing slack-jawed onlookers in their droves, could not be more intoxicating if it tried. Frankly, it epitomises what casino scenes in film are all about.
What defines a US casino? Some lengthy state law gambling certificate, we imagine. Rows of slot machines and a clunky wheel too no doubt. But we struggle to think of a more intimidating gambling den than the high-stakes train car found in The Sting, providing enough sweat-laced thrills to ensure it warrants inclusion on this list. Brows were certainly set to furrow here, where Paul Newman’s cheat hoodwinks Robert Shaw’s shady rival over a game of Jacks. Iconic film, iconic scene.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas
Nothing sums up the madcap incongruity of themed casinos more than Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam’s terrific adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s loosely autobiographical and utterly enthralling novel, laying bare the ridiculousness of these novelty venues through lead man Johnny Depp’s drug-induced stupor, No more so than in this part where he visits Bazooko Circus Casino (an obvious parody of Circus Circus), his leg-trembling and comically off balance body movement perhaps even reminding us of Leonardo Di Caprio’s final act brilliance in The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Remember that time The Hangover wasn’t an ailing franchise but a hugely popular movie? Yeah, us too, and its success was down to scenes like this, featuring three of the Wolfpack as they attempt to win back some money Rain Man-style. Just look at Alan, suited up alongside Phil on the escalators; the spoofery is first-class, making it quite easily one of the best casino scenes in recent years. Plus, the time-lapse part is an especially impressive shot in its own right.
Run Lola Run
Talk about breathless thrillers - it was knackering just watching the titular heroine dash across Berlin and gather a ransom in exchange for her boyfriend’s life. During one rare pause for breath in the film, Lola visits a stuffy casino, her unkempt appearance directly at odds with the well-tuxedoed table hosts whose sneering looks quickly turn to shock as she wins big. The shot of the ball gunning it around a roulette wheel as she emits an ear-piercing scream is brilliant - and don't worry about the lack of subtitles, it's all about the visuals for this one.
National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation
If you’ve ever spent a weekend haemorrhaging cash in the mega casinos of Las Vegas, at one stage or another you’ll have abandoned The Strip in favour of cheaper venues downtown, where betting limits are as low as the average patron's IQ. In National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, this assumption is taken to the next level as Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold visits a redneck-clustered casino to enjoy more simplistic gambling fare like ‘Pick A Number, Coin Toss, Guess Which Hand, and most laughably, Rock, Paper, Scissors. “Dealer has rock” is a hell of a line.
Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
It’s easy to forget how monumental Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels was upon release, signalling the birth of a confident, stylish new strand of British crime genre thanks to some witty lines, glossy visuals and a pumping rock soundtrack. And while the venue of this scene might not be a casino in a legal sense, the card game and atmosphere at this boxing club is as high pressure as you’d find anywhere else.
[Images: All Star]