California Split Reviews
Surpassing the immediate comparison called The Cincinnati Kid (1965) in a number of ways, California Split can be still considered today as the most important character-analysis rendition of the nightwalker, daysleeper, risk-seeker compulsive gambler.
One of Altman's most notorious film trademarks is his ability to bring realistic scenarios to life. Despite the big variety of gambling locations, social places such as pubs, and domestic settings present in the film, the minimalistic camera along with a grand screenplay and a powerful duo of leading performances from the Segal/Gould duo absorb your senses fully to the portrayed environment, where the intensity of gambling, the tension of being mugged (twice in a row) and the humor of the jokes and the naturalistic situations become pretty much tangible to the viewer. Reportedly, in these filming locations, professional gamblers and ex-drug addicts were employed instead of extras. Altman's interest in constructing realistic settings can be even highlighted with a little piece of trivia:
"A number of the extras and background artists were members of Synanon which is organization for former drug addicts."
IMDB Trivia Section
With these, the extremely low probability of a winning streak like the one portrayed here (I did a mathematical approximation, and the number of zeros after the decimal point before any different number appears was very amusing) is almost completey forgiven, despite how ludicrous it is, for a simple reason: Altman's hidden ace in the hole. The two leading roles were drastically different regarding their intentions for gambling. One loved to win. One was used to lose. One was a risk-seeker, which from an Economics point of view means that he gets more satisfaction from both expected return and risk. The other wasn't. He sought the risk, but maybe subconsciously expected to lose as a form of self-punishment, as in an attempt to bring himself down to the lowest possible point of his life, which is purposely left vague. Paradoxically, he becomes disappointed after having a "winning streak", which maybe caused an epiphany in him, after realizing not only the extent of his dangerous actions and the life he is having, but also realizing the existence of an addiction.
And this last point is the one that elevates the film's status to a higher significant level of quality. In case this wasn't enough, ahilariously conceived scene at an escalator with oranges involved, some curious homosexual undertones between the gambling duo, and an epically funny scene involving the discussion of the names of the Seven Dwarves add extra value to this stylish, jazzy product.