Director: Sergio Martino
NoShame Films

Appearing on the same date as NoShame's crime masterpiece ALMOST HUMAN is a lesser-known almost-Eurocrime genre piece from gialli expert Sergio Martino: GAMBLING CITY. Starring a familiar face from Italian cult cinema, Luc Merenda, this not-quite-polizia borrows a few hands from THE STING and is a rare gem well worth seeing.

Handsome huckster Luca has discovered a new method of moneymaking: scamming rich poker players in the secret gambling casinos of Milan! The sharp-eyed card shark is soon spotted by "The President," the top figure in the Mob who recruits him to work his magic as a professional con man. But things turn ugly when Luca falls head over heels for his boss' son's girlfriend, Maria Luisa, and finds himself on the death list of the very people who employed him!

For viewers familiar with Martino's brilliant gialli (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL), GAMBLING CITY will be a pleasant surprise. It's not a full-blown action film and isn't the typical police-chasing-criminals Eurocrime movie, either. It seems more influenced by the French noir films of the 60s and the American film noirs of the 1940s, with an everyday Joe falling into hot water and having to get himself out with the help of a femme fatale. The script by Ernesto Gastaldi is just as smart and intriguing as that of THE STING and THE HUSTLER, two very similar gambling flicks, and keeps the viewer interested throughout as Luca's plans go into action to risk everything for love. The film bogs down after the death of a pivotal character and runs about 20 minutes too long (especially with the interaction between Maria Luisa and Luca), but things pick back up when the couple on the run must finally confront their pursuers to start life anew. However, don't expect a happy, good-triumphs ending because a major plot twist leaves a depressing taste in the mouth.

Handsome Luc Merenda could never be accused of delivering a bland performance, even in some truly abysmal films (he's even memorable in his brief TORSO bit), and GAMBLING CITY may be his strongest film. He is able to juggle comic dialogue, romantic seduction scenes and gun-wielding action sequences with ease; it's no wonder he was a popular leading man in genre films of the 1970s. He's incredibly likable here and really throws himself into several slam-bang, fist-throwing fight scenes. Enrico Maria Salerno (well-known from BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, CANDY and countless other Italian films) is almost unrecognizable made-up as the grey-haired wheelchair-bound "President," but is excellent in his brief supporting role. So is the late Corrado Pani as the weak mobster son who is consistently humiliated by Luca, despite help from his hired goons. Leading lady Dayle Haddon is not a very strong love interest, and not nearly as attractive as the film makes her out to be, but she is likable enough for us to care when she is almost raped at the command of her vicious mobster boyfriend.

The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of GAMBLING CITY is quite gorgeous, with mild appearances of grain when the bold colors and deep blacks aren't dazzling the eye. There are no scratches or dirty frames to be seen, and skin tones are accurate. Two audio options are provided: the Italian mono with English subtitles and an English mono. Like ALMOST HUMAN, the film features both English and Italian-spoken scenes, so it's great to have both here to choose from.

To compliment the fine feature, two major extras are included. The 20-minute featurette "Chatting with the Cheaters" includes interviews with director Sergio Martino, star Luc Merenda and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando (who also worked with Martino on his exceptional gialli). Martino discusses his desire to create a crime film outside the usual parameters of the genre, his relationship with Luc Merenda, and explains some of the plot devices used in the film. Miranda is still a striking, good-looking man (albeit with gray hair) and professes that GAMBLING CITY is one of his very favorite films. Ferrando talks about shooting the wild action sequences (including the thrilling car chase in the final act) and how Luc Merenda would take similar risks when shooting these sequences. If it seems like Miranda doesn't share too many stories specific to the film in the featurette, check out the feature-length audio commentary he has recorded! Spoken in English and moderated by film critic Riccardo Trombella, Merenda discusses shooting his own stunts (including riding the motorcycle throughout the film), his love of working with Martino, Enrico Maria Salerno and Dayle Haddon, and several interesting factoids about his personal life and other films in his career. It's fascinating to hear Merenda's French accent (who would have thought this Italian-looking actor was French?) and even though he does lapse into narrating on-screen events sometimes, it's a rare treat to hear this fine Eurocult actor discuss his career for a region 1 audience and there are enough great moments to make this a worthwhile listen.

Additionally, the original theatrical trailer (with both an Italian and English soundtrack) and a photo gallery with plenty of lobby cards, posters and video artwork are included. A collectible booklet includes a great essay by Richard Harland Smith about the film and bios of Martino and Merenda by Smith and Matthew Weisman. (Casey Scott)