California Split

California Split ★★★★½

"Goddamnit lady, you don't throw oranges on an escalator!"

Altman's 70s output I've seen features some of the most varied and interesting collection of stories and characters in film. While Coppola might have the best success rate, he also did it with a much smaller volume. Altman was as prolific as can be, and somehow, it seems, California Split is somewhat forgotten.

I had to watch this on Crackle because I can't find a DVD and it's not streaming on Netflix or other means in Canada (unless I didn't look in every last possible place). So, this meant ads. The sound mixing needs some work, as the dialog was much lower than the soundtrack in places.

This film desperately needs the Criterion upgrade. With the Altman relationship firmly in place, I believe it might happen. Despite the rough-ish transfer, this movie just worked for me. Elliott Gould, having already charmed the hell out of me in my now favourite movie The Long Goodbye, is perfect as a laissez-faire gambler. George Segal is a little more uptight as a magazine man looking for some edge, but finds a gambling addiction and many debts. He also meets Gould's Charlie.

The opening scene makes it feel like a precursor to poker movies like Rounders -- a solid movie in its own right, and one I adored in high school -- but it has much more depth to it. Rounders is more about the stakes built within the machinery of the plot, leaving relatively flat or overly large characters to navigate it. Bill and Charlie, as well as Barbara and Susan, feel far more real and lived in. The gambling sequences are more texture than anything, even when the two go to Reno in hopes of scoring huge.

It's a film that seems like it's glorifying the chase involved with gambling, but it doesn't quite. It doesn't necessarily demonize it either. True to its subject, California Split plays its hand close to its chest (I couldn't help it...hacky as that line is...I couldn't help it).

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