A Countdown of the 25 Greatest Gambling Movies of All Time: #20 -- "House of Games"

Other Nov 24, 2020

This is a daily countdown of the greatest gambling movies of all time ranked from #25 to #1.  Today, we feature #20 – "House of Games," released in 1987.

House of Games is less about the gritty details of chance and more about the art of the con and the mesmerizing attraction of con-artists.

Yes indeed, there's something dubiously delicious about the con and con-men that makes us watch, and even admire them.

This movie has writer-director David Mamet’s fingerprints all over it.  If there's anyone who grabbed the mantel of Alfred Hitchcock and his genius at interweaving plot with suspense, it's Mamet.  This is a craftsman totally at home with his subject matter and confident enough to take unconventional paths when we they're least expected.    

There are some wonderful scenes in this film, which includes a non-stop array of cons — at a poker table, on the open street, at a Western Union office, inside a hotel room, and ultimately in the hearts and minds of the excellent cast of dubious characters, all led by Joe Mantegna in the starring role.

Lindsay Crouse, who was married to Mamet at the time this movie was made, plays the female lead, and the "mark."  Crouse, who was so great in the small and underappreciated role as the nurse in The Verdict with Paul Newman, plays the role of the victim here, yet also shares some guilt being drawn to the magnetism of an underworld that's equally frightening and fascinating.

The late card magician and character actor Ricky Jay also appears.  

If you love films with twists where you’re not quite sure who to root for, this is a movie to see. House of Games would be ranked higher on this list except for a lackluster ending that doesn’t meet the rest of the film’s level of intrigue.  Sorry to spoil the ending, but this isn't about a payoff in the final scene as much as a roller coaster ride.  I defy anyone who hasn't seen the film to predict how it will end.

Here's the famous poker scene, which probably should be watched as part of the entire movie.  But if you have need a fix, this gives some idea how captivating the rest of the film is to watch and enjoy.

The Pointspreads.ca Top-25 Countdown (so far):

#21 – 29th Street (1991)

#22 – Oceans Eleven (2003)

#23 – Molly's Game (2017)

#24 – Owning Mahowny (2003)

#25 – The Killing (1956)


Headline Photo Credit:  RogerEbert.com