Released in 1938, The Gambler is a German film based on the novel of the same name. Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1867, the novel has inspired a multitude of films and plays. This was however the first film adaptation of the classic novel. The film is directed by Gerhard Lamprecht and stars Eugene Klopfer and Lida Baarova. It was not a critical or commercial success due to unfortunate events. Lida Baarova was having an affair with Joseph Goebbels at the time. He was one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime and the public scandal that ensued when this came out resulted in the film being pulled after 3 days in the cinema. It also resulted in another film featuring Lida, A Prussian Love Story, to be pulled. The film was eventually re-released in 1950 after the fall of the Nazi empire.
The Plot of The Gambler
The story of The Gambler follows Alexei Ivanovich, a Tutor for a seemingly rich Russian family. It soon becomes clear that the father of the family, known simply as The General, is in debt to a man named De Criet. The general hears his grandmother has fallen ill. He realizes she would leave him part of her inheritance so that he can pay his debts and he immediately sends a message to her to hear how her health is. Alexei meanwhile is in love with the general’s stepdaughter, Polina. She appears aware of this but twists Alexei around her finger. She eventually goads Alexei into insulting two nobles they walk past, which ends up getting Alexei fired.
The Second Act and the Downfall of Alexei
After the grandmother shows up and realizes the general’s intent, she refuses to leave him anything and instead gambles a huge portion of her fortune away before returning home. After this turn of events the general is in dire straits. Polina finds Alexei and tells him of their troubles. Alexei immediately resolves to help her and her father. He heads to the nearest gambling hall and strikes it big. Hoping to win Polina’s favor, he shows her his winnings and tells her he will help them out of their debt. She takes the money, but runs off with another man. Eventually Alexei is left destitute again and gambling to stay alive. Alexei finds the man that Polina ran off with sitting in the park and he tells Alexei that Polina did love him, but she is now a widower in Switzerland. Alexei is resolute to go and win her back, as soon as he makes enough money gambling.
How Dostoyevsky’s Personal Experience Influenced The Gambler
The Gambler was not just a Novel for Dostoyevsky but almost autobiographical. At the time, he was himself suffering from a gambling addiction and the reason he wrote the novel in the first place was to get out of a gambling debt. Dostoyevsky’s game of choice was roulette. He became indebted to a man called Stellovsky who demanded that Dostoyevsky finish a Novel for him within a strict deadline, or else offer up publishing rights to his books for 9 years. He eventually did finish a novel, The Gambler in the time stipulated by Stellovsky, but only with the help of his soon to be wife, Anna Grigorevna, who was one of the first stenographers in Russia. Dostoyevsky dictated the novel to her while she transcribed and copied the words.