Play It Again – Gambit


By Jess Lomas
November 6, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Harry Dean (Michael Caine) and his art dealer friend Emile (John Abbott) have a “foolproof” plan to rob a Middle Eastern tycoon, Mr. Shahbandar (Herbert Lom), of a priceless statuette in Ronald Neame’s 1966 comedy caper Gambit.

Problems arise almost immediately when Harry enlists the help of Nicole (Shirley MacLaine), a showgirl who talks too much to be the complacent accomplice he needs. She bears an uncanny likeness to Shahbandar’s deceased wife though – not to mention the statuette Harry desires – which he believes will help him distract the mark while pulling off an incredible heist.


Gambit is one of those films where the less you know about the plot the better, which makes reviewing it quite the challenge. It was originally advertised with the line, “Go ahead: tell the end – it’s too hilarious to keep secret – but please don’t tell the beginning!”

This forgotten gem utilises twists and surprises extremely well, leading us one way before revealing the truth. The first act can be likened to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; within twenty minutes you’re watching a completely different feature to the one you thought you signed up for. Right up until the closing credits the audience is thrown curve balls, building on Nicole’s observation early on, “You can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys with all these spy things going on.”

Once you realise nothing in this movie is going to plan, the fun arises from seeing how things unfold and how Harry and Nicole work together. Caine and MacLaine have great comedic interplay – strengthening the characters’ opposing personalities- as well as the much-needed chemistry to make their relationship believable. MacLaine’s casting is perhaps a little tasteless considering she is meant to be playing a Eurasian woman in Hong Kong, though it is fitting given the period it was made in.

Gambit is a more fun, rather than thrilling, crime caper. While there aren’t any tense moments, for those willing to go along with it, Gambit is a charming and funny ride.


Gambit is available on Quickflix.

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