California Split Reviews
This film stylistically is much more tame then most of Altman's work. It is not nearly as flashy, but it does pack the emotional sadness which most of his films have. The film is really about the shallowness involved with gambling and how people that need to do such things really do so because they are missing something in their life. Must of the film is absolutely hysterical as we follow Charlie and William from poker table to bar to race track to bar, well you get the point. Elliott Gould is great in this film, as William; he is hysterical and really gives maybe even a better performance than in The Long Goodbye. The film is all fun until the final scene, where William begins to realize the error of his ways.
This is just another strong flick from Altman, its hilarious, fun, and sad all at the same time. Ironically enough, it really did make me want to go gamble...
We‚??re amused by their hangovers, their bruises nursed with hot shaving cream, the loopy part-time prostitutes who supply them with breakfasts of Froot Loops and beer. We coast smoothly through the racket of their friends, nonchalantly presented through Altman's penchant for overlapping dialogue and downplayed visual openers, so that we're not so much shown new characters as guided to suppose we were already familiar with them. And since Joseph Walsh's screenplay is amusing and Segal and Gould are genuinely engrossing, we have a good time.
However then there are scenes that assume darker implications, like at one point, at the craggy fringe of sleep, inebriated, conquer, Bill and Charlie stick hopelessly to a bar and rather gravely bet with one another on the names of the Seven Dwarfs. And at another time, trapped with their winnings in yet another parking lot by yet another mugger, this one armed, they hand over half their winnings and bet him that's all they have. As California Split rambles along we find that Altman has not made a farce about gambling. He's taken us into an American vision, and all the people we met along the way felt and looked authentic. This movie smacks of a musty rotating fan.
As always, Altman stocks his movie with eccentric peripheral characters, people who have by some means grown to parody themselves. At the exclusive poker game, Gould stands at the bar, analyzes the table, and in a whisper sizes up each player. He's correct about them, but he and we have never seen them before. We know he's right as these people bear their idiosyncrasies and fates on their faces. So do the hookers played with a sort of kindheartedness by Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles. So does one of their customers who's a middle-aged man who likes drag as much as he's frightened of the cops causing a scene painfully mixed of tragic and comic character. Altman's movies invariably appear brimming and abundant, one way or another. We don't have the sense of a stationary screen into which painstakingly delineated characters are inducted single-file as much as a camera delving into a simmering surf of berserk civilized commotion.
I also saw The Long Goodbye just before this, which looks like a noir, sounds like a noir, but it‚??s not a noir. I don‚??t know what California Split looks and sounds like, certainly not a comedy, but in its own weird, subversive way, it is a comedy. What Altman comes up with is occasionally a sense of naturalism. At the end of California Split we‚??ve seen something about organized gambling in this country we hadn‚??t seen before. He draws his visual approach from a deeply conscientious soundtrack, employing ambient sound with painstaking delicacy so that our ears inform us we're moving through these people, rather than that they're taking turns talking to us. Indeed, this is the first film ever to use eight-track stereo sound that wasn‚??t shot in Cinerama. It worked.
California Split (1974) - 7.5/10
Director - Robert Altman
Starring - George Segal, Elliott Gould, Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles, Ed Walsh, Joseph Walsh, Bert Remsen
Bill (George Segal) and Charlie (Elliott Gould) are compulsive gamblers. Bill is on a losing streak; his marriage is on the rocks and he's about to lose his job. Charlie is a loose cannon living with two hookers (Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles). The two men become buddies and hope that together they can turn their fortunes around.
"California Split" isn't considered to be one of Robert Altman's most significant works. That said it probably doesn't deserve to be one of his most forgotten works either. After five years of deconstructing genres Altman created an almost freestyle film. The narrative is loose, the improvisation manic and plot is virtually non-existent. And for the most part it works remarkably well because Altman is so in tune with the atmosphere of the film. From the opening scene the viewer feels like they are in the same smoke-filled room as Bill and Charlie. We become distracted by the faces, the noises, the livliness of the room. It certainly has a documentary feel to it. And Altman wastes no time in developing the quirks of the two main characters, assuring the viewer that we won't be wasting our time following these two guys. In fact when the films reaches a lull it almost seems intentional; the guys just lose steam for awhile.
Obviously Altman is a confident filmmaker, but even so this wouldn't work without the chemistry of the two leads. George Segal and Elliott Gould play off each other incredibly well. As genuine as the friendship appears, you can also sense how fragile it is, afterall these are complusive gamblers. One truly funny and telling scene show the two men drinking at a bar when one issues a bet; can you name the seven dwarfs? Eliott Gould has the best lines and he's comedic gold in this film. George Segal's character has more of an arc serving as the conscience of the film.
Fans of Altman will certainly appreciate "California Split" but I don't think you have to be an Altman fan to enjoy it. The film not only serves up its share of laughs, but it's also offers one of the best depictions of gambling seen on film.