Gambler Run-Around

Two days ago I wrote about Paramount’s planned remake of Karel Reisz and James Toback‘s The Gambler (’74), and expressed curiosity about Paramount’s hiring of William Monahan (The Departed) to rewrite Toback’s jewel-perfect script. “Monahan is too good of a writer to just update or do touch-ups,” I noted, “so I’m wondering if Paramount wants to make The Gambler into a somewhat different thing?”

Leonardo DiCaprio, James Toback at a Revolutionary Road luncheon, thrown by Manhattan blue-chip party madame Peggy Siegal and Paramount Vantage in the Plaza’s Oak Room bar and restaurant — Wednesday, 12.3.08, 1:10 pm.

I called Toback about this right away and he didn’t pick up. I assumed, naturally, that he knew all about this Martin Scorsese project, especially as he’s friendly with Leonardo DiCaprio (who’s attached to play the James Caan part) and because Leo and Marty are longtime allies and why would Leo sign off on any kind of “fuck you Jim” move? I presumed this was understood all around and that Paramount had called Toback and talked it out with him, if for no other reason than courtesy.

No, reports Nikki Finke — Paramount didn’t call and talk it out with Toback. They didn’t even tell him through his agent. They’re not legally obligated to consult Toback, apparently, so they didn’t. Nice manners!

A few minutes ago Deadline‘s Nikki Finke posted an angry letter from Toback about this announcement. It expresses his justifable outrage. By all means read the entire Toback letter on Deadline — good stuff about the making of (and particularly the casting of) The Gambler.

Toback explains that Brett Ratner, for whom he’s writing a John Delorean screenplay that Reliance and Bob Evans are producing, told him Friday night about Mike Fleming’s story about the intended Scorsese remake. Here’s how he describes that moment:

“‘Not my Gambler!’ Toback said. ‘That’s not possible! No one said a word to me!

“‘Who owns it?’ Ratner asked.


“‘I guess they didn’t have to.’

“‘Legally, I guess you’re right,’ I said.

“‘Maybe that’s all anyone gives a fuck about: whether something is legal.’

“The film in question, The Gambler, was financed and distributed by Paramount in 1974 and directed by the late Karel Reisz,” Toback explains. “It was derived without a syllable of alteration from the final draft of my blatantly autobiographical original screenplay and starred James Caan as Axel Freed, a City College of NY literature lecturer whose addiction to gambling overrides every other aspect of his richly diverse life.

“It might seem odd that my initial response to the news of the purported remake would be something south of ‘flattered and honored,’ but the truth is that my main feeling was one of disbelief that I was learning of these plans at the same time and in the same fashion as any of the regular devoted readers of [Deadline Hollywood],” Toback continues.

“It struck me as particularly odd since I have been a friend and unlimited admirer of Leonardo’s since our initial encounter in 1994 when we were, in fact, all set to close a deal on his playing the lead in Harvard Man – a deal sabotaged only by Bob Shaye‘s overriding the greenlight which Mike DeLuca had conveyed to Jeff Berg and Jay Moloney.

“Equally odd was not hearing anything from Irwin Winkler who, I was soon to learn, is to be the producer on this projected new version as he was on the original.

“Perhaps my inability to view this ‘tribute’ as primarily flattering was additionally influenced by a recent and infinitely more felicitous experience which involved remarkably similar circumstances. My movie, Fingers, was remade as a Cesar prize-sweeping film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard, the great French filmmaker who called me from Paris and then flew to New York to discuss Fingers in great detail before redoing it, apparently not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal — notion that as long as they ‘own’ something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator.

“Of course, the French have always had an entirely different set of laws and values governing intellectual property based on the poignant notion that a writer’s work cannot be tampered with by anyone even including someone who paid money to take ownership of it. This current experience conjures up memories of a banker who owned Harvard Man and once said to me: ‘To you this is a movie. To me this is a pair of shoes. My pair of shoes. And I will do whatever I like with it.’

“Learning of the plan to ‘remake’ my movie at the same time and in the same fashion as any other devoted reader of this esteemed column, I suppose I should feel…what? That a tribute is being paid to a creation I left behind? I suppose. But one doesn’t always feel what one is supposed to feel.

“As the late, great Jackie Wilson sang:

‘Just a kiss

Just a smile

Call my name

Just once in a while

And I’ll be satisfied.’

“Rudeness, on the other hand, and disrespect yield their own unanticipated consequences.

Footnote: Now that such an esteemed bunch of luminaries seems so inspired by The Gambler that they are contemplating the devotion of masses amounts of time, money and energy to redoing it, perhaps the home video crew at Paramount will consider making The Gambler available on DVD and Bluray which it presently isn’t. And perhaps by On-Demand as well — if it isn’t there already. They can look it up and find out if they have the time.”

Wells note: The Gambler may not be an active DVD title by Toback’s reckoning, but I ordered a new copy from Amazon two nights ago.”

  • Chester54

    The first comment on DHD is kind of a classic as well, the gist being “what’s the old man complaining about and what’s he done lately anyway?”

  • Krillian

    Is that James Woods?

  • Ryan Stewart

    Is Toback really this out of it? Why does he expect people who aren’t his friends to call him if they’re not legally obligated to? What studio exec spends their day making courtesy calls?

    And DiCaprio is probably attached to two dozen projects — there isn’t even a script for this one yet.

  • joe banks

    “The next day I got a call from Winkler. ‘You and I don’t know each other,’ he sadi, ‘but you’re gonna learn something that Bob Evans is going to learn too: Irwin Winkler ain’t no whorer! Bob Evans can offer me fifty movies. It don’t matter. No one is getting me off The Gambler.'”

    there are producers who really talk like this? i thought it was only Jack Woltz in The Godfather

  • corey3rd

    I so wanted to see Leo acting as if he was Kenny Rogers

  • Phatang!

    POOR James Toback. Waaaah! No one asked him for his blessing. Nobody even called! Not even his close, close friends Leo and Marty. How’s he ever going to get through this??

    Seriously, off all the acts of psychological cruelty perpetrated in Hollywood on a daily basis, we’re supposed to find this one somehow outside the bounds of what’s acceptable?

  • RJ

    When did Martin Scorsese start making children’s films and remakes?

  • Kit Sung

    Did Toback write that rambling for any other reason than to brag who hes allegedly friends with?

  • BobbyLupo

    James Toback vs. Peter Bogdanovich in a to-the-death name-drop competition….

  • George Prager

    “You’re Leo DiCaprio? You blow me away. My wife loves you…has a big crush crush on you. Can you come to our table and buy her a glass of champagne? Come on do it. Nananananah, do it. Do it.”

  • corey3rd

    I want to see Leo and Marty next remake Kenny Rogers’ “Six Pack.”

  • Storm Serge

    Toback’s writing for Ratner? The Rat?!

  • raygo

    James Toback is his own worst enemy.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Wells to raygo, Bobby Lupo, kit sung and all the other doubters & haters: There’s no “alleged” anything in Toback’s letter. He has histories with all these people and is simply stating fact. The Gambler isn’t just a script that Toback wrote (with some assistance from Fyodor Dostoevsky) — it’s autobiographical. It’s a movie about what his life had been like up to that time. Toback’s gambling stories are legendary. What blows my mind is that you guys and others don’t seem to understand or care about concepts of basic respect and professional courtesy. I don’t care if 50% or 75% or 95% of the suits and agents have discarded respect and courtesy from their behavior manifest. The fact remains that from Toback’s perspective, The Gambler is an autobiographical film for the most part, and it’s effing outrageous for Paramount execs and Irwin Winkler and others to decide to re-make it without a simple courtesy phone call or a meeting/consultation or something that would acknowledge and/or pay tribute to Toback’s original authorship. I mean, do you guys live by any values at all? Or are you Hud-ites or what?

  • Phatang!

    I get why Toback would be pissed — I DON’T get why anyone else would give a shit. And a writer with even the slightest bit of perspective or dignity would suffer this slight privately, instead of blackmailing all those involved into calling him today to plead his forgiveness.

  • BobbyLupo

    “He has histories with all these people and is simply stating fact.”

    I didn’t say he was lying, I said he was (as he always does) name-dropping. The story is twice as long as it needs to be because of all the name-dropping he pads it out with. What does Robert De Niro have to do with why he’s angry? What does Warren Beatty have to do with why he’s angry? Nothing, that’s what.

    “What blows my mind is that you guys and others don’t seem to understand or care about concepts of basic respect and professional courtesy.”

    What blows my mind is that a guy like Toback could be in the business as long as he is and not recognize that you shouldn’t immediately respond to a rumor that was prematurely made public. But even if it is true, Toback’s response is showing equal discourtesy.

  • MechanicalShark

    You fuckers. If I’m understanding this right, Toback has every right to be pissed. It’s people he knows, maybe even people he thought were his friends, remaking his work without telling him. Put yourself in his position. You think you wouldn’t come up with a similar rant in the same situation? Damn, you people are smug pricks.

  • DeafEars

    “I didn’t say he was lying, I said he was (as he always does) name-dropping. The story is twice as long as it needs to be because of all the name-dropping he pads it out with.”

    Also classy of him to pass along that little tidbit about Lucy Saroyan and Marlon Brando, which had nothing to do with the rest of the story. While he does have a point, Toback’s windbaggery and lack of discretion and persepctive go a long way towards indicating why the principals don’t want him involved in this.

  • BobbyLupo


    Shark – there’s an old expression, “Never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach.” But what it really means is, compose the E-mail when you’re angry, but don’t hit send until you’ve calmed down.

  • Cadavra

    “When did Martin Scorsese start making children’s films and remakes?”

    Well, he’s done three actual remakes so far–CAPE FEAR, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE and THE DEPARTED–and he’s acknowledged several others were inspired by previous films: TAXI DRIVER= MURDER BY CONTRACT, GANGS OF NEW YORK = UNDERWORLD USA, NEW YORK, NEW YORK = THE MAN I LOVE, etc. Plus THE COLOR OF MONEY is a direct sequel to THE HUSTLER.

  • Terry McCarty

    Somehow, I don’t see Monahan using Toback’s original ending (particularly the final shot) in the proposed remake.

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