The Great Sinner

  • 1949
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

In this often gripping film based on Dostoyevsky's 1866 story "The Gambler" (uncredited by the producers here), Peck is an honorable writer who falls in love with Gardner, but learns that her father (Huston), an inveterate gambler, is horribly in debt to casino owner Douglas and that father and daughter are almost chattel to the smooth gambling czar. Peck...read more

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In this often gripping film based on Dostoyevsky's 1866 story "The Gambler" (uncredited by the producers here), Peck is an honorable writer who falls in love with Gardner, but learns that her father (Huston), an inveterate gambler, is horribly in debt to casino owner Douglas and that

father and daughter are almost chattel to the smooth gambling czar. Peck plans to rescue the pair and redeem their IOUs by beating Douglas at his own gaming tables. At first, it appears as though he will be able to accomplish the impossible. He wins and wins, his beginner's luck triumphing with

every turn of the cards, roll of the dice, and spin of the wheel. Magnanimously, Peck begins to repay Huston's debt to Douglas, who takes it all smugly, knowing that Peck's luck can't last. Soon enough, Peck's fortunes do take a turn for the worse, and he loses all his money, his future royalties,

and even the gems Gardner has long kept her father from selling. In one stunning scene, the dangers of gambling are shown when Barrymore, as Gardner's grandmother, grandly enters the casino with a retinue of servants carrying a large silver box containing the family's heirlooms. She intends to

redeem the family fortune, but is devastated when she gambles herself into bankruptcy instead. Unfortunately, the film has a contrived upbeat Hollywood ending in which Peck is shown dashing off a literary masterpiece that saves everyone from ruination. (Presumably screenwriters Fodor and Isherwood

had in mind Crime and Punishment, which appeared in the same year Dostoyevsky wrote "The Gambler," as the model for this masterwork.)

Peck is powerful as the obsessed gambler, and Gardner was never more ravishing. Huston makes a wonderful bewhiskered rapscallion, and Douglas, as the slick casino operator, is a man you love to hate. The art and set direction are excellent, with sumptuous re-creations of the high-fashion gambling

rooms, hotels, and salons of 19th-century Wiesbaden. Of course, Peck's role is not only based on the Dostoyevsky character in the short story, one Aleksei Ivanovich, but on the author himself, who lost his entire fortune not once but several times at the gambling tables in Leipzig. Gardner's role

is based on the author's mistress, Polina Suslov, who deserted him when the money ran out. At the time this film was made, Peck, then still an aspiring actor who had begun to establish himself with such films as YELLOW SKY (1948); DUEL IN THE SUN (1946); THE PARADINE CASE (1948); THE YEARLING

(1946); and GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947), sought out Huston's advice during the production. The older man, one of the greatest character actors ever, would not, however, impart any real information about acting. He disliked it, he said, and talked about sports instead. When Peck persisted,

Huston's advice came down to one line: "Give 'em a good show and always travel first class." (Michael Freedland, Gregory Peck.)

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: In this often gripping film based on Dostoyevsky's 1866 story "The Gambler" (uncredited by the producers here), Peck is an honorable writer who falls in love with Gardner, but learns that her father (Huston), an inveterate gambler, is horribly in debt to c… (more)

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