The Monday Movie – House Of Games


“I should raise your ass… but I’m just going to call. My marker’s good for a moment?”
“What is this ‘marker’. Where are you from?”
“Where am I from? I’m from the United States of Kiss My Ass…”

I’m a big fan of playwright and screenwriter David Mamet and have featured his work (specifically Glengarry Glen Ross) previously in the Monday Movie feature.

There can be few mainstream writers who so polarise opinion and create so much controversy.

The 1987 film House of Games was his directorial debut, after almost two decades of increasingly succesful and acclaimed work writing plays and movie scripts.

It’s the first of two films he has written and directed that deal specifically with con artists and their victims (though deception and cheating are recurring themes in much of his work), the other being the also excellent The Spanish Prisoner (1997). But while The Spanish Prisoner is about a high-end, multi-million-dollar corporate con, House Of Games is rooted firmly at the sleazy, small-time end of the swindlers’ scale.

The set up for the scene below is as follows. A psychiatrist (played by Mamet’s then wife Lindsay Crouse) has written a successful book, about obsession and compulsion in everyday life, that has made her wealthy

She is disturbed when a young patient tells her he owes a shady gambler (Joe Mantegna) $25,000 and will be killed if he doesn’t pay it back, so she decides to intercede on his behalf. She visits Mantegna at a seedy pool hall, where she finds him in the middle of a game of poker.

He tells her the debt is actually only $800 and offers to cancel it if she pretends to be his girlfriend to help him fleece one of the other players at the table (played by Mamet regular Ricky Jay (left)). Mantegna explains that Jay has a “tell”, an involuntary action he always performs when he is bluffing. He tells Crouse he will leave the table in the middle of a big hand, so that Jay drops his guard, leaving Crouse to look for the tell, tipping him off about whether to call or fold.

The scene concludes (with the first of the film’s many twists) at the start of this video:

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