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Left to chance - why Hollywood loves the roulette wheel


Left to chance - why Hollywood loves the roulette wheel 

There is no shortage of iconic movie scenes set in casinos, from Casino Royale to Ocean’s Eleven, two examples of movies where the remakes far outdid the 1960s originals. But when it comes to using a casino game as a plot device, film directors will invariably turn to the roulette wheel. 

In part, it is because of the random nature of the game. The idea of fate taking a hand is one that crops up time and again, and the very phrase “spinning the wheel” is one that has entered the everyday vernacular. But the simplicity of a game of roulette also makes it the perfect tool for a film director. 

If a character is playing poker, half the audience is likely to be a step behind. He’s got a pair of kings – is that good? In roulette, whether the bet is on a single number or a color, there’s no ambiguity and we can all see at once whether the gambler has got lucky. Let’s take a look at some classic films from across the years where the roulette wheel has played a starring role.

Casablanca (1942)

77 years on, Casablanca continues to entrance new audiences, and the scene in Rick’s casino gives us a perfect insight into what makes Bogart’s lead character tick. It’s also one of the few occasions when the outcome of the game is down to more than chance. When a young man sits down at the wheel, willing to risk it all to win enough money to fly himself and his wife to safety, Rick says “Have you tried 22 tonight?” and directs an inscrutable glance at the croupier. It comes up not once but twice, and Bogart sends the young couple on their way with the advice “Cash it in and don’t come back.”

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

No Bond film is complete without a casino scene, and plenty of the action in this underrated Sean Connery romp takes place in Circus Circus on the Las Vegas strip. While it is the craps game that really pushes the plot along, Bond finds himself at the roulette wheel twice. Early on, he uses it as an impromptu weapon to dispatch an unfortunate assailant head-first, while later in the movie, he attracts attention with a straight-up win on 17.

Lost in America (1985)

After finding fame in the Airplane movies, Julie Hagerty went on to star alongside Albert Brooks in this road movie, which he also wrote and directed. The pair of yuppies decide to cash in everything they own and hit the road in a Winnebago, but disaster strikes when Hagerty’s character goes to the roulette wheel and tries to channel the power of Casablanca, repeatedly betting on 22. This one’s something of a forgotten gem and is well worth seeking out.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

To talk too much about the plot of this film noir would be to ruin the experience. Suffice it to say that nothing is ever as it seems and the roulette wheel that stands in the reception area of the eponymous hotel is an almost constant presence. Its importance to the overall plot becomes clear in the second half of the movie.  

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The Movie Bit: Left to chance - why Hollywood loves the roulette wheel
Left to chance - why Hollywood loves the roulette wheel
The Movie Bit
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