Monday, December 1, 2014


The best compliment I can pay to THE GAMBLER RETURNS; THE LUCK OF THE DRAW is to say that its salute to the television westerns of yesteryear is good enough to make it worth sitting through Kenny Rogers' artless performance as the titular character. The supporting actors accompanying him on his quest-- Rick Rossovich, Park Overall, and even fellow singer Reba McIntire-- do yeoman service in distracting the audience from Rogers' tone-deaf line-deliveries. The script is serviceable, involving the Gambler's quest to participate in one last great poker-game-- though, as it happened, this was not the last of the GAMBLER TV-flicks.

The one thing that makes this telemovie palatable is its status as a crossover-work. It might be seen as an inversion of the type of crossover seen in the SPACE GHOST/"Council of Doom" episode. The purpose of the crossovers in that episode was to create viewer interest in Hanna-Barbera's new offerings, but LUCK OF THE DRAW is about saluting series-characters who were now only revived in the spirit of nostalgia.

DRAW is replete with many references to both real western history and that of the "fake West," none of which go very deep. In some cases, the film's producers didn't secure permission to reference certain characters. Thus Doug McClure and James Drury appear, but are not playing their VIRGINIAN characters. Neither the Lone Ranger nor Tonto appear, but a horse that looks like Silver shows up, accompanied by the William Tell Overture. None of these "doppelganger characters" count as genuine crossovers, but fortunately, DRAW does bring in such luminaries as:

*Bart Maverick, played by Jack Kelly
*The Rifleman, played by Chuck Connors
*Wyatt Earp, played by Hugh O'Brien
*Kwai Chang Caine, played by David Carradine
*Dave Blassingame, played by Brian Keith
*Cheyenne, played by Clint Walker
*Bat Masterson, played by Gene Barry

In addition, the story also works in various actors with strong western associations, such as Linda "Big Valley" Evans and Dub "Wild Bunch" Taylor.  And Paladin of WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE is referenced as having passed on, in deference to the passing of the actor who played him, Richard Boone.

Though the main characters have some interesting if low-key adventures, the story is clearly an excuse for the guest-stars to show up, do their turn, and then gracefully bow out. One's enjoyment of these scenes probably does depend on some familiarity with the original series. Possibly, though, even the trivia-happy Internet Generation could appreciate the soliloquy of Paul Brinegar, reprising a not-named version of "Wishbone" from RAWHIDE-- for in said soliloquy, Brinegar managed to work in the titles of about a dozen TV westerns.

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