Thu 11 Feb 2016
KING OF GAMBLERS. Paramount Pictures, 1937. Claire Trevor, Lloyd Nolan, Akim Tamiroff, Larry Crabbe, Helen Burgess, Porter Hall, Barlowe Borland. Writing credits: Doris Anderson (screenplay), Tiffany Thayer (story), Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur (neither credited). Director: Robert Florey.
King of Gamblers is an immensely fun little “B” from Paramount, one of a series put out by that studio in the late 30s. These films, with titles like Dangerous to Know, Hunted Men, Tip-Off Girls, Illegal Traffic and Parole Fixers offered fast-moving stories, stylish direction and strong acting from a revolving stock company that included Robert Preston, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carroll Naish, Buster Crabbe, Anthony Quinn and (almost invariably) Lloyd Nolan.
But they are primarily triumphs of Production. Someone at Paramount cared enough to get directors like Robert Florey, writers (sometimes uncredited) like Ben Hecht, Horace McCoy and S. J. Perelman, and cameramen and editors who knew how to lend class to tight budgets. And it shows. You can watch almost any film from this series and get an hour of solid entertainment from it.
King of Gamblers features Tamiroff in his usual Mob-Boss stint, Lloyd Nolan as his reporter-nemesis and Claire Trevor as (you guessed it) the girl they both love. But the show gets stolen by an actor even I never heard of named Barlowe Borland.
Who? That’s right, I guess. Borland was an Edmund Gwenn type before there was Edmund Gwenn, usually type-cast as the fussy professor or prissy butler, but here quite effective as Tamiroff’s “arranger” Maybe he’s so chilling because he doesn’t try to act nasty; whether he’s setting up Trevor’s seduction, abetting a woman’s kidnapping, or covering up a murder, he keeps up a cheery Dickensian demeanor quite in keeping with the modest virtues of the film itself.
One to look for.