It’s tough to beat corruption and vice for enduring entertainment value. But Las Vegas has no monopoly on on-screen gambling and its attendant sleaze. As the following movies make clear, filmmakers have tried their luck at capturing dens of iniquity on Earth and beyond. Sometimes they hit it big, sometimes they just broke even.
Barbary Coast Gambling mecca: Sinful, Gold Rush-era San Francisco. Players: Ethnic casino boss (Edward G. Robinson) and his alluring roulette-wheel croupier (Miriam Hopkins). Their big play: Romantic sparring amid a lot of slangy dialogue. Payoff: Headlong, hard-boiled melodrama. B+
Seven Thieves Gambling mecca: Monte Carlo. Players: Aging thief (Edward G. Robinson) and his motley confederates (including Rod Steiger and Joan Collins). Their big play: Robbing a casino vault. Payoff: Sharply etched, suspenseful caper. B+
The King of Marvin Gardens Gambling mecca: Atlantic City. Players: Depressed radio monologuist (Jack Nicholson) and his hustler brother (Bruce Dern). Their big play: Thinking up a mirage of a deal to build their own island resort. Payoff: Bleak, underrated character study. A-
Walking Tall Gambling mecca: Tennessee roadhouse. Players: Real-life sheriff Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) and his big whuppin’ stick. Their big play: Rooting out a gambling syndicate (essentially by beating the bad guys to a pulp). Payoff: Violent, genuinely tough crime drama. A-
Outland Gambling mecca: Sin pit servicing miners in the greater Jupiter area, providing booze, drugs, and hookers. Players: Sean Connery as a space marshal and Peter Boyle as the planet’s mining boss and drug lord. Their big play: A Western-style showdown. Payoff: Limp High Noon homage. C+
Little Vegas Gambling mecca: Proposed Nevada resort designed to compete with Big Vegas. Players: A hood turned mobile-home salesman (Anthony John Denison) and a retired Jewish mobster (Jerry Stiller). Their big play: Foiling the Little Vegas plan and saving their trailer-park community. Payoff: Whimsical seriocomedy. B