The Only Game in Town - 1970
The Only Game in Town - Released January 21, 1970. Directed by George Stevens.
Compact tale of two "losers" in Las Vegas who are each self-destructive in their obsessions but together find a way out of their self-imposed traps. The wit of the dialogue and the difficult journey of the two is an engaging tale, though a survey of critical responses to this movie indicate many viewers find it either mundane or flat-out maudlin. The melodrama is rather thick: Fran Walker (Elizabeth Taylor) has been waiting years for her married boyfriend in another state to finally get the promised divorce that will allow them to get together legally. She finally put an ultimatum on the man and he hasn't been heard from since. Meanwhile, she works as a very bored-looking chorus girl in a Vegas show. From this starting point the whole film develops simply - one night after work she is looking for pizza and comes across a night club piano player named Joe Grady (Warren Beatty) who caustically ingratiates himself to her by way of his self-deprecating joking and wry comments about Vegas in general.
Grady's dilemma is that he plans to leave Vegas, a place he claims to loathe, and head to New York City to work as a musician. He says he needs $5,000 to be able to survive long enough in NYC until he'll get the jobs he'll need to take care of himself. He has been steadily saving the money so that he can do just that. He says he has had a gambling problem in the past but has it under control now, a lot of information Fran doesn't really want to know because she shields herself from anything that is more than a superficial engagement with other people, especially men, as she waits for her absent prince charming to show up.
The dialogue in the film is filled with funny lines, and Beatty is effective as an easy-going, jocular and slightly manic spectator and analyst about everything around him. The problem is his compulsive gambling streak, which has a cruel edge to it, comes out whenever he gets near his self-imposed $5k goal line, and in the course of this film we will see him blow up his nest egg several times, then return to his penny-pinching to build it back up.
Taylor is low key in a way that isn't in too many of her higher-profile movies. Her character comes across as a highly intelligent, empathetic woman who nonetheless is tied up in a long distance relationship with an invisible man who may have been chosen deliberately because he is out of reach. When that guy is suddenly "free" and Grady has more than $5K in his hands, this will present the biggest challenge the two friends Fran and Joe will face as they see their "no strings attached" relationship now under threat of extinction. How Fran and Joe Grady conquer their problem (in a sense it is really the same problem) and finally can get out of the purgatory of Las Vegas is the main thing in the script by Frank Gilroy. Whatever glamour and excitement Vegas holds in the American mythology of "the good life" it isn't available in The Only Game in Town.
Page November 2018
Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Movemaking
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