Gambit (1966)

2011 #89
Ronald Neame | 104 mins | download | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U

GambitI decided to watch Gambit, which I’d never heard of, after it was recommended on twitter by a film journalist and he was greeted with a seemingly-never-ending chorus of “thank you” tweets — my curiosity was suitably piqued. And I’m glad, because Gambit is a ton of fun.

Gambit is, as you may have guessed, distinctly underrated. The huge advantage of this is that you’re not very likely to have had all the twists spoiled, which is wonderful news! Indeed, because the biggest twist is near the start, it’s pretty hard to review without giving it away — as the Psycho-referencing poster promises. But I’ll do my best. Honestly though, avoid other reviews, just in case. I don’t want to oversell it because it’s probably not of quite the same magnitude as, say, The Sixth Sense, or indeed Psycho (pick either of the big twists there), but it is a good’un.

So, it stars Michael Caine as a con artist, and he ropes Shirley MacLaine into his latest scheme for a very specific reason. Once underway, it’s a very funny film, with great turns from MacLaine and Caine. The latter is more subtle, but he’s underplaying beautifully and it really pays off. The humour lures you into a kind of false sense of security, because some bits are very tense (at least, I thought so). You become suitably attached to these characters, giving a nail-biting boost to scenes of them pulling off their con. This is true of the climax in particular, where naturally it’s all on the knife-edge of falling apart.

MacLaine CaineTwists in con movies are par for the course, of course, but here it’s not just the opening that has one: there’s also a salvo in the closing minutes, just to keep you on your toes. You may guess one or two as they rush up on you, but perhaps not all of them. Though as I’ve just warned you they’re coming you stand a better chance than me.

Gambit is imperfect — a romantic angle springs up out of nowhere in the closing minutes that could have done with a bit (well, a lot) more development earlier in the film — but flaws like that barely matter in the face of all the fun it has. I know I haven’t said much, but trust me, that’s for the best. If an amusing heist/con movie from the ’60s starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine sounds like your kind of thing, read no more, just watch it. I did, and I loved it.

4 out of 5

Gambit placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.

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