Never Trust A Gambler is a 78-minute noir gem from 1951.
It tells the story of Steve Garry (Dane Clark) and his ex-wife, Virginia (Cathy O’Donnell). Virginia divorced Steve because he was a degenerate gambler but that doesn’t mean that she no longer has feelings for him. Or, at the very least, that’s what Steve is hoping when, out of the blue, he shows up at her door and tells her that he needs a place to hide out.
As Steve explains it, a friend of his had been accused of murder and Steve is being pressured to testify at the man’s trial. In a move of pure gaslighting, Steve explains that his friend is innocent but, if Steve testifies, it will lead to his friend being wrongfully convicted. Hence, unless Virginia wants to be responsible for sending an innocent man to death row, she has to give Steve a place to hide out. Furthermore, Steve swears to her that he’s no longer a gambler and that he’ll only need to stay with her for a few days. Reluctantly, Virginia agrees.
Later, while Virginia is at a grocery store, she’s approached by a police sergeant named McCloy (Rhys Williams). At first, it seems like McCloy might be following her because he’s looking for Steve but, instead, it turns out that he used to date Virginia’s former roommate, Delores. After clumsily trying to flirt with her at the grocery store, McCloy follows Virginia home. When McCloy tries to force himself on her, Steve comes out of the shadows and beats McCloy to death.
So now, Virginia and Steve have a dead body to contend with. Because Steve is hiding from the cops and Virginia’s been allowing him to hide out in her house, calling the police is not an option. Steve promises Virginia that he’ll take care of the whole thing. Steve’s solution is to put McCloy in a car and push it over the edge of a cliff. Given that McCloy was a drunk, it’s reasonable to think that the police might assume that McCloy was driving drunk and cashed his car. Now, Steve and Virginia both wait to find out whether or not Steve’s plan worked….
Technically, the protagonist of this film is Sgt. Donovan (Tom Drake), the detective who investigates McCloy’s death but, for the most part, Donavon’s something of a stiff. Instead, the film really belongs to Dane Clark and Cathy O’Donnell. Cathy O’Donnell gives a poignant performance as a woman whose efforts to escape the past and live a normal, drama-free life are continually made unnecessarily difficult by the selfish men surrounding her. Meanwhile, Dane Clark tears through the film like a force of nervous nature. Clark always seems to be on the verge of jumping out of his own skin and a good deal of the film’s suspense comes from wondering when Steve is going to lose control. At the same time, Steve Garry is a character about whom most viewers will have mixed feelings. On the one hand, he’s sleazy and selfish but, on the other hand, he saved Virginia from someone who was even worse. Does Steve really love Virginia or is he just taking advantage of her? This movie will keep you guessing.
Never Trust A Gambler is a well-done and intelligent film noir and definitely one that deserves to be better known.