California Split (1974)

R | 111 mins | Comedy | 1974

Director:

Robert Altman

Writer:

Joseph Walsh

Cinematographer:

Paul Lohmann

Editor:

Lou Lombardo

Production Designer:

Leon Ericksen

Production Company:

Won World Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

End credits begin with the acknowledgement, “For Barbara.” Though one of the lead characters was named “Barbara,” and screenwriter Joseph Walsh’s wife, also named Barbara, appeared in the film, it is unclear to whom the acknowledgement refers.
       According to production notes found at AMPAS library, California Split was Walsh’s screenwriting debut. When he read the script, director Robert Altman decided to make the film as a “celebration of gambling.”
       Production notes stated that the film was the first major motion picture for Joseph Walsh’s brother, Broadway actor Edward Walsh. Additionally, Joseph’s wife, actress Barbara London, appeared in a bit part. Though lead actor Elliott Gould came to the set with extensive gambling experience, his co-star George Segal had only amateur knowledge of gaming and studied under Joseph Walsh to prepare for his role.
       Filming took place in Los Angeles, CA, and Reno, NV. According to production notes, California Split was mostly filmed in scene order according to the script, a common practice for Altman. Thus, the shoot started with Gould and Segal’s initial meeting at the California Club, a poker hall which was created by production designer Leon Ericksen in a “temporarily vacated ballroom” in Los Angeles, on La Brea Avenue. In Pomona, CA, the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds served as the location for the horse races. Other Los Angeles area locations included: Olympic Auditorium; homes in Westwood and Brentwood; a coffee shop in Van Nuys; an apartment building in Culver City; and the office of Altman’s production company which doubled as Segal’s office at the fictional California Inquire magazine. Members of Synanon, an organized “group-help community,” performed as background actors ... More Less

End credits begin with the acknowledgement, “For Barbara.” Though one of the lead characters was named “Barbara,” and screenwriter Joseph Walsh’s wife, also named Barbara, appeared in the film, it is unclear to whom the acknowledgement refers.
       According to production notes found at AMPAS library, California Split was Walsh’s screenwriting debut. When he read the script, director Robert Altman decided to make the film as a “celebration of gambling.”
       Production notes stated that the film was the first major motion picture for Joseph Walsh’s brother, Broadway actor Edward Walsh. Additionally, Joseph’s wife, actress Barbara London, appeared in a bit part. Though lead actor Elliott Gould came to the set with extensive gambling experience, his co-star George Segal had only amateur knowledge of gaming and studied under Joseph Walsh to prepare for his role.
       Filming took place in Los Angeles, CA, and Reno, NV. According to production notes, California Split was mostly filmed in scene order according to the script, a common practice for Altman. Thus, the shoot started with Gould and Segal’s initial meeting at the California Club, a poker hall which was created by production designer Leon Ericksen in a “temporarily vacated ballroom” in Los Angeles, on La Brea Avenue. In Pomona, CA, the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds served as the location for the horse races. Other Los Angeles area locations included: Olympic Auditorium; homes in Westwood and Brentwood; a coffee shop in Van Nuys; an apartment building in Culver City; and the office of Altman’s production company which doubled as Segal’s office at the fictional California Inquire magazine. Members of Synanon, an organized “group-help community,” performed as background actors in the poker hall and racetrack scenes.
       According to a 30 Jan 1974 HR news item, following seven weeks of production in Los Angeles, filmmakers shot the final two weeks of a nine-week schedule in Reno, NV. Production notes stated that filming took place in Reno’s Mapes Hotel, where filmmakers converted the establishment’s Sky Room into a casino modeled after the existing casino in the lobby. Altman explained that shutting down the real casino was an impossibility, given the financial loss they would experience in “even five minutes” of non-operation. Altman stated that the actors gambled in the lobby during breaks, so they were able to perform scenes in “a gambling frame of mind.” A 15 Mar 1974 DV article reported that, in allowing the film to shoot inside their establishment, Mapes Hotel took full responsibility for the film’s content, which The Nevada Gaming Commission would later view. Anything portraying Reno’s gambling community in a negative light could lead to the hotel losing its gaming license.
       As noted in a 13 Mar 1974 HR brief, famous poker player Amarillo Slim was flown in from Las Vegas, NV, to act as one of Segal’s adversaries in the film’s final poker game.
       According to production notes, in order to capture sound from various conversations taking place at the same time, Altman’s sound crew utilized an eight-track recorder and, in certain scenes, up to eleven microphones.
       Critical reception was mixed, with some reviewers appreciating the film’s rambling storytelling, and others criticizing its lack of narrative focus. While a 26 Aug 1974 Newsweek reviewer called it “perhaps the best film ever made about gambling,” Charles Champlin of LAT complained in his 14 Aug 1974 review, “The garbled, stomped-on, incomprehensible dialogue…here seems so self-indulgently and needlessly overdone as to give a whole new dimension to the Splitting headache.”
       A 23 Oct 1975 HR news item reported that screenwriter Charles Kray sued Altman, Walsh, and Won World Productions, Inc. for $2.5 million. Kray claimed to have written the screenplay with Walsh; however, the claimant had previously dropped an arbitration case with the Writers Guild of America West, and the guild subsequently credited Walsh as the sole screenwriter.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Jan 1974.
---
Box Office
4 Feb 1974.
---
Box Office
26 Aug 1974
p. 4715.
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
15 Mar 1974.
---
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1974
p. 25.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1974
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1974
p. 3, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1975.
---
LAHExam
14 Aug 1974
pp. 1-2.
Los Angeles Times
15 Jan 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Aug 1974
Section IV, p. 1, 11.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Aug 1974
p. 21.
New York Times
8 Aug 1974
p. 28.
Newsweek
26 Aug 1974
p. 84.
Time
2 Sep 1974
p. 6.
Variety
7 Aug 1974
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Spelling/Goldberg production
A Robert Altman film
A Persky Bright/Reno Feature
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
Story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Unit photog
Cam op
Elec gaffer
Grip
Grip
Best boy
Lamp op
Lamp op
Generator op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Editorial asst
Editorial asst
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
2d prop man
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus played and sung by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Dubbing mixer
Sd crew
Sd ed
Sd tech
Cable man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Unit pub
Prod coord
Scr supv
Asst to the prods
Craft service
Asst to accountant
Prod secy
Company secy
Company secy
Transportation capt
Transportation cocapt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Caterer
First aid
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
DETAILS
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 7 August 1974
Los Angeles opening: week of 14 August 1974
Production Date:
14 January--early April 1974 in Los Angeles, CA, and Reno, NV
Copyright Claimant:
Reno Associates
Copyright Date:
8 August 1974
Copyright Number:
LP43930
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
gauge
35mm
Widescreen/ratio
2.35:1
Lenses
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
111
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Bill Denny arrives at the California Club, a bustling poker room, and asks a worker to assign him to a game. Meanwhile, Charlie Waters saunters into the lobby and watches a promotional video that explains how the club works. A floor man shows Charlie to a table, where Bill also plays. Charlie annoys the other players by talking too much and celebrating overtly when he wins a hand. However, Bill defends Charlie when he squabbles with Lew, an angry player, who has accused him of cheating. Lew takes a swipe at Bill and accuses him of being in cahoots with Charlie. Security subdues Lew, and both Charlie and Bill soon leave. The two men run into each other later at a bar and bond over many drinks. Hours later, Bill offers Charlie a ride home. In the parking lot, Lew shows up with an accomplice and mugs Charlie and Bill. Early that morning, at the apartment of Charlie’s girlfriend, Barbara Miller, the men apply shaving cream to their bruises and Barbara serves them cereal for breakfast. Her roommate, Susan Peters, returns home crying after a bad experience with a man who paid her for sex. The following day, Bill shows up to his office, where he works for the magazine, California Inquire . He calls Charlie, who encourages his new friend to join him at a racetrack. After insisting that he cannot take any more time off work, Bill relents and goes to the track where the men drink beer and bet on the winning horse, “Egyptian Femme.” Charlie and Bill return to Barbara’s apartment in ... +


Bill Denny arrives at the California Club, a bustling poker room, and asks a worker to assign him to a game. Meanwhile, Charlie Waters saunters into the lobby and watches a promotional video that explains how the club works. A floor man shows Charlie to a table, where Bill also plays. Charlie annoys the other players by talking too much and celebrating overtly when he wins a hand. However, Bill defends Charlie when he squabbles with Lew, an angry player, who has accused him of cheating. Lew takes a swipe at Bill and accuses him of being in cahoots with Charlie. Security subdues Lew, and both Charlie and Bill soon leave. The two men run into each other later at a bar and bond over many drinks. Hours later, Bill offers Charlie a ride home. In the parking lot, Lew shows up with an accomplice and mugs Charlie and Bill. Early that morning, at the apartment of Charlie’s girlfriend, Barbara Miller, the men apply shaving cream to their bruises and Barbara serves them cereal for breakfast. Her roommate, Susan Peters, returns home crying after a bad experience with a man who paid her for sex. The following day, Bill shows up to his office, where he works for the magazine, California Inquire . He calls Charlie, who encourages his new friend to join him at a racetrack. After insisting that he cannot take any more time off work, Bill relents and goes to the track where the men drink beer and bet on the winning horse, “Egyptian Femme.” Charlie and Bill return to Barbara’s apartment in celebratory moods, but she and Susan send them away because a cross-dressing client is paying the girls to accompany him to dinner. Charlie and Bill sneak out the back and re-appear at the front door, posing as undercover cops. After they pretend to take the women into custody for prostitution, the four later go to a boxing match, where the men bet and win. Outside, a robber holds Charlie at gunpoint as he flashes his winnings, but Charlie, who cannot believe he is being robbed again, cuts a deal and sends the thief away with half the money. Later, Charlie visits Bill’s office, and Bill calls his bookie, Sparkie, begging for more time to pay off a debt. Later, Bill borrows money from a friend and buys into a poker game in the backroom of a brothel. Having lost, he leaves at dawn. That day, Sparkie meets Bill at a diner and harangues him for the $2200 he owes. Bill later goes to Barbara’s apartment, but only Susan is there. He tells Susan he’s separated from his wife. When she asks if he wants to have sex, he tells her yes, but he has no money. She says it doesn’t matter because she really likes him. When Barbara interrupts, Bill thinks twice about sleeping with Susan and leaves, causing her to cry on Barbara’s shoulder. One day, Charlie shows up at Bill’s office after a trip to Mexico. Upset that Charlie didn’t bring him on the trip, Bill informs his friend that he’s headed to Reno to gamble. Later, Bill pawns some of his belongings and sells his car. At a public park, Charlie plays a younger guy in a one-on-one basketball game for money, wins, and takes his earnings to the racetrack. There, he sees Lew, the poker player who robbed him, and follows him into the bathroom. The men fight, and Lew breaks Charlie’s nose, but Charlie recovers and overpowers him, then steals the cash from his pockets. Charlie later accompanies Bill on a bus to Reno, and the men pool their money. Arriving at a casino, they go to a poker room and Bill joins the game after Charlie gives him a rundown on every player at the table. Bill pays the $2,000 buy-in, and later asks Charlie to leave so that he can concentrate. In the main room of the casino, Charlie plays slots. Eventually, Bill emerges from the poker room to inform his partner that he’s up $11,000. Charlie encourages Bill to quit, but he insists he’s on a streak and must continue. Bill returns again after he’s won a total of $18,000 and moves to a blackjack table. Though Charlie begs for money to gamble himself, Bill refuses. Soon after, Charlie catches up with his friend at a roulette table and Bill demands he leave, angry that a ball jumped out of the number he chose. Finally, Bill wins at roulette, and they move to a craps table. Bill rolls the dice, and his streak continues until he leaves the table abruptly. Charlie finds his partner in a room alone with his winning chips on a table. Charlie puts all the chips into a bowl and tells Bill that they should get a suite, rest up, then buy new clothes and go to Las Vegas. While Charlie cashes the chips in and gets the $82,000 in winnings, Bill looks forlorn as he sits in the other room. Charlie splits the money between them, and Bill complains that he did not experience a “special feeling” after winning so much. He declares that he must go home and quickly leaves. Afterwards, Charlie takes his money and leaves as well. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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