Thursday, June 22, 2006

(POKER MOVIES) "The Cheater's Game"

(To be quite honest, I am just horribly depressed today and do not feel like writing anything. However, a few months ago, I wrote a series of entries on Poker-themed movies that I was planning to post when the Rat Pack Bar League started up again. Since that apparently ain't gonna happen, I will instead being posting them on days like today when I can not conjure the energy to come up with an original thought. This first entry in the series offers an overview of the way Hollywood has portrayed the game of poker over the years. Future entries critique specific films.)
I've heard a lot about how the recent explosion in the popularity of poker, fueled by televised Hold' Em tournaments, has done much to dispel the "negative image" of the game. It's true the game has had a bit of a P.R. problem throughout its history, often being regarded as the exclusive province of cheats and hustlers. In fact, according to many of the books on poker that I have read (and I have read many) poker was widely known as "The Cheater's Game" in the 19th century.
One of the things keeping this negative image alive in the public consciousness is the way the game has been portrayed in movies. In nearly every "poker movie", from The Cinncinnati Kid to Maverick, there is some sort of cheating going on or scam being run. Even Rounders, one of the linchpins of poker's newfound popularity, has Ed Norton's Worm, an unrepentant cheat.
When there's no cheating going on in a film, the image presented of poker players is still less than flattering. For example, in Robert Altman's California Split, Elliot Gould and George Segal's characters are portrayed as pathetic losers who turn to gambling to fill a void in their souls. Then there's High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (a.ka. Stuey), a biography of the three time World Series of Poker champion. While Ungar may have been, as many claim, "the greatest poker player who ever lived", he is hardly a positive role model, what with the cocaine and the Mafia connections and all.
Why can't someone make a film about a well-adjusted, honest family man who happens to be a professional poker player? Say, something like: Ten-Deuce: The Doyle Brunson Story. That's box office gold, baby!

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