Terribly overlooked, and now long out of print, this is a special film, well worth seeing. Yes the DVD had a couple of trims forced on it over music rights, but it was still a way to at least get to see a minor classic. It's a tremendously sad comedy about two very different compulsive gamblers, who form a compulsive friendship almost homo-erotic in quality and intensity. Some of the very best work of both Gould and Segal's careers. Not a lot happens, but I was left very moved and a bit shaken by the ending, even if there are a couple of overly cute, or self-referential moments along the way. One of the more interesting examinations of the U.S. concept of winning and losing I've ever seen.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
My favorite film finally shows up on DVDAug. 27 2004
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OK, so it's coming out as what appears to be a bare-bones disk instead of a juiced-up Criterion collection title (doubly sad since other Altman classics like "Secret Honor," "Tanner 88" and "Short Cuts" are getting the CC treatment the same month) but that doesn't matter.
What does matter is that I'm finally going to get to see my favorite film in widescreen.
I taped "Split" off cable years and years ago. I remember setting up the recording at some ungodly hour (3:25 a.m. or something) because I didn't want to miss it and I ended up watching the movie in its entirity.
Elliott Gould gives an amazing, lived-in performance as a lucky card player who takes a liking to a less fortunate gambler and, through a series of episodes, we watch them pass a few weeks hitting the track, going to boxing matches, playing poker, drinking, getting beat up and using a neat home remedy on their bruises over Fruit Loops. Their friendship is one of the best I've seen on-screen. Screenwriter Joseph Walsh appears briefly as Sparkie the shylock and it's a perfect cameo, a pre-"Sopranos" portrait of a crook haggard by the life ("Didn't I tell you that I've got busts happening all over the city, that my parents are in town, and you come in here and you don't have dollar one?")
This is a woefully underseen Altman classic, mostly because it's not available on tape or DVD, it's pretty rare. But it's a great movie -- I even have the one-sheet for "Split" hanging over my computer -- and I'm very, very pleased that I'll finally be able to see something *besides* the opening and closing credits in letterbox (it always seemed to underline the cruelty of pan-and-scan when, after the credit "Directed by Robert Altman" my beloved black bars disappeared).
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Character & Behaviour Over Plot & StoryDec 7 2004
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In the 1970s, Elliott Gould and Robert Altman were an unbeatable team. They first worked together on M*A*S*H, a savage satire of the military, then again on a radical, contemporary reworking of Raymond Chandler's novel, The Long Goodbye, and finally completed the hat trick with California Split, an ode to obsessive gamblers. For years, this film has been relegated to obscurity, showing up occasionally on TV and tied up in legal issues over the music which delayed its release on DVD. Finally, all of these entanglements have been resolved and the movie is presented the way it was meant to be seen.
California Split is one of Altman's trademark character-driven films. It is less concerned with plot than behaviour as we watch the friendship between Bill and Charlie develop over a mutual love of gambling. As the film progresses and the two men hang out more, Bill starts to become more addicted to the gambling lifestyle. He blows off work early to meet Charlie at the track and sells his possessions for money. Bill and Charlie are gambling addicts who ride the high arcs and the low valleys, never passing up a bet. At a boxing match they put money on the outcome of the fight with a fellow spectator.
Those who know Elliott Gould and George Segal only from their contemporary sitcom appearances (Friends and Just Shoot Me, respectively), should see California Split if only to see these guys in their prime and working with a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Gould and Segal have never been better and play well of each other. There is good chemistry between them as Gould plays the more experienced gambler in contrast to Segal's more naïve one.
Altman fans will enjoy the audio commentary included on this DVD. It features the director, the film's screenwriter Joseph Walsh, Gould and Segal. They point out that all the extras in the opening sequence were ex-drug addicts. Altman and Walsh talk in detail about the filmmaking process with the latter pointing out the authenticity of the gambling lifestyle as depicted in the movie. Everyone recounts amusing anecdotes on this relaxed, informative track.
California Split is not afraid to show the ugly side of gambling. Bill sells his car and his possessions for a big poker game in Reno. Charlie exacts a rough, bloody revenge on the guy who mugged him at the beginning of the movie. These are not always likeable guys and to Altman's credit he doesn't try to romanticize or judge them, leaving that up to the audience. California Split is arguably Altman's loosest film in terms of plot and one of the richest in terms of character and observing their behaviour.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Egyptian Femme! Egyptian Femme!Nov. 21 2004
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OK...if you had told me ten years ago this film would be on DVD i would've been shocked...first I would've said 'what's a dvd'? then i would have said 'i can't believe anyone remembers this film besides myself' (i've been trumpeting it for years...if that's a word) It might not look like it, but this film is a true masterpiece, one of Mr. Altmans best films (up there with Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, etc...) The story is a little ramshackle...but that's part of the charm. You follow two gamblers as they roam around California looking for action, they win...sometimes...and lose...more...get beat up a couple times...and eventually travel to Reno for the grand finale. The acting is perfect, Elliot Gould has never been better and George Segal gives a great haggard performance. The sound is Altman at his most layered. The whole film is rich in detail and heavy on atmosphere and most viewers will need to watch a couple times to really enjoy. If you think 'Rounders' is a great poker film...see this one. And for once he commentary on this DVD is great (too often commentary is boring 'oh yeah, that actor was wonderful, that actress was amazing, etc.. without explaining how the film got made, etc) They don't make 'em like this anymore.
Also: when will Altmans "A Wedding" come out on DVD, a true lost classic (similar to Gosford Park and Nashville in style). It's been out of print for years and needs to be seen!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Refreshingly Mature Guy FilmJan. 25 2010
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The main thing that struck me while watching this film is how (like many 70s films) it would never be made today. Today it would be re-written with vulgar potty jokes and immature geek humor a la "The Hangover", "bromance" (god, I hate that word)-style homo-erotic humor and chick-flick melodrama, and would be chock full of hip music montages, unrealistically sexy women, and would have a flase happy ending. It reminded me of how seldom REAL men are portrayed on the screen. They're usually reduced to testosterone-packed meat puppets, frat-boy washouts, or geeky Peter Pans. Today the characters would be 5-10 years younger, much more attractive, and thoroughly unbelievable.
Instead, we get Robert Altman long before he and his fans became pretentious, Elliot Gould and George Segal (two GREAT 70s actors) at the top of their game, a story that NEVER condescends, and some wonderful widescreen cinematography.
It's not a classic, but it's not trying to be. It's just a funny, smart, touching portrait of a couple of down on their luck, but not quite broken, gamblers. Gets an extra star for having balls. SO refreshing.
This is a gem of a movie. You have to respect Altman's movie making to really love it but it's a fun 70's look at gambling and it's grasp on folks. This is a seedy side of America that most people don't see without the typical hollywood dramatical elements of drugs, guns, and criminals. You could call Segal and Gould low-lifes but this story is just a wild ride that shows the how people get sucked into gambling. Segal and Gould are great together and this movie is certainly worth watching (or streaming...as it's hard to find). This is one of my favorite movie's as i'm a fan of low stakes gambling and Altman. I really want to see this re-issued by Criterion Collection as it easily fits into what they do and they have celebrated some Altman previously.