Gambit (1966) Directed by Ronald Neame.  Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Herbert Lom (109 min).

A con man, not quite as silky smooth as he imagines, recruits a dancer with an unsettling resemblance to a valuable ancient Chinese sculpture for a daring heist.

I adore caper films of the 1960s.  Modelled after Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief and Jules Dassin’s Rififi, films like Topkapi, How to Steal a Million and Gambit combined all-star casts, dazzling color locations, gorgeous costumes (Hepburn by Givenchy! MacLaine in Jean Louis cheongsams!) and clever plots to maximum effect.  Soon, with the collapse of the Production Code and dismantling of the old studio systems, cinema would get down and dirty in the late 60s and early 70s, and the winds of realism would forever blow away confections like Gambit.

 

Out of print on DVD for many years (but recently revived with Universal’s burn on demand archive series) Gambit deserves to be better known.  Hollywood newcomer Caine’s charm is full on, and he is a surprisingly good match with MacLaine who had been around so long, surely she must be quite a bit older than her leading man, but is by only a scant year.
Along with the three stars, featured are Roger C. Carmel, Arnold Moss, John Abbott and other familiar faces from 1960s television, guest villains all, particularly on the original Star Trek tv series.

In his autobiographies, Caine writes at length about how, his star rising after The Ipcress File and Alfie he discovered on an American press junket that his two British starring films were widely seen In the US and had been making the rounds of private screening rooms in the movie capital.   Shirley MacLaine had the contractual privilege of selecting her own leading man and she picked Caine, and brought him back to Los Angeles for Gambit.  He speaks with awe, even after so many years, of the Hollywood parties where he was stunned to meet movie stars he had idolized since his youth, and was introduced to them as a rising star, himself.

I loved this movie so much when I saw it that I pasted three pages of newspaper photos into the scrapbook I was keeping at the time.  I saw the film recently on Turner Classic Movies, and was stunned to discover at one key point, after so many years, I still knew exactly what Michael Caine was about to say. 

The outdated racist term, Eurasian or, as here Eurasion was used to describe MacLaine's character Nicole.

I would have seen this as the Mayland theater, one of the two within a mile walking distance on Mayfield Road.

c.moviedivaFebruary2014