Many movies set scenes inside casinos to indicate a degree of wealth and opulence among the characters, with a supporting cast of glamorously-dressed gamblers adding to the air of decadence. From James Bond’s high-stakes exploits to the slick planning and execution depicted in Ocean’s Eleven, movies featuring casinos are usually focused on the large amounts of money that changes hands in them.
However, sometimes filmmakers use casinos to create contrast between the traditional depiction of slick high-rollers impressing an assembled crowd and the kind of comic antics that are at the heart of some of the most iconic films ever made. By subverting the expectation that casino goers will all try to maintain poker faces and keep their cool at the tables, the silliness of some casino scenes has made them culturally iconic.
However, not everyone appreciates the way that casinos are depicted on the silver screen, and gambling is such an important part of some cultures that they take even the silliest casino films seriously. This was the case when the iconic film ‘Casino’ was released in Sweden, where they really value their gambling industry and do not like to see it denigrated.
When the film was released in Sweden, 43 meters of film were cut to remove some of the more violent scenes. Swedish authorities were keen to ensure that the image of gambling was not associated with such extreme violence, in order to preserve the reputation of its own industry, a prescient move if the success of Svenska Online Casino is anything to go by.
You don’t watch a National Lampoon film for nail-biting drama, but the movie ‘Vegas Vacation’ really played on the traditional image of a casino in its comedy. While attending a Siegfried and Roy show, Chevy Chase ends up taking the place of one of the iconic white tigers, and later, his wide unexpectedly features prominently in a Wayne Newton concert.
Chase’s character is then thrilled to discover a casino that suits him down to the ground, offering non-standard games where he can really clean up. Comedy ensues as all the casino conventions are subverted with unusual games that don’t even pretend to give the players a chance at winning.
After a few rounds of Rock, Scissors, Paper against a dealer who is playing against everyone at the table, Chase’s character goes on to ‘almost’ win a game of Heads or Tails before trying his luck at the Guess Which Hand game, where he accuses the croupier of cheating. He fares no better in the Guess a Number Between 1 and 100 game when he chooses four to reveal that the croupier was thinking of the number seven.
By directly undermining the traditional image of casinos, this movie portrayal turns all the standard tropes on their head, relying on viewers knowledge of casino games for its humor.
Honeymoon in Vegas
Featuring an impromptu wedding, an Elvis impersonator, fat cigars, and an ever-increasing stack of chips, the setup for the storyline in this film is a deliberate attempt to cram all the casino cliches into a single scene. Nicolas Cage is tricked into playing an ‘unbeatable hand’ against James Caan, who has rigged the game to give himself the advantage, and so the classic casino payback movie is set up.
Regular casino-goers will know that the events that take place in this movie would never happen, but the comedic element allows the makers to put together a plot that draws on expectations about casinos without having to stick too closely to the realities of casino gaming. At the end of this film, a six-year-old Bruno Mars appears as a miniature Elvis impersonator in another of the silliest scenes ever to appear on screen.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
With Monty Python’s Terry Gillam in the director’s chair, there’s no way this movie could have been anything but silly, but the performances from Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro combine for some truly ridiculous scenes. In their ‘altered states’, the two main characters struggle to navigate the bright lights and bustling atmosphere of the casino floor.
Whether they’re searching for the American dream or trying to distinguish reality from their fevered hallucinations, the protagonists’ experience of Vegas is far from the traditional representation of casinos in movies. There may be none of the smooth, slick action that you see in some casino movies, but this unusual take on a trip to Vegas certainly has a number of scenes that veer from the silly to the downright scary.
When movie-makers depict casinos, they draw on various traditions that are easily recognizable. When these are subverted with unexpected scenes that play on the viewers’ expectations of what casino gaming is really like, the results are often hilariously memorable.