- Jul 8, 2001
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Film Length: 105 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DD 3.0
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Release date: November 2
:star: :star: :star: (all star ratings out of five)
Robert Altman’s buddy picture about the gambling lifestyle has a lot going for it. So why has almost nobody seen it?
Making its DVD – and, as far as I know, home video – debut, California Split is a likable but flawed film about two fast friends who meet at the poker table and invade one another’s lives for better or worse.
Elliot Gould and George Segal have fantastic screen chemistry as the two leads – so much so that I caught myself wondering more than once if we weren’t meant to wonder about the nature of their relationship (if you know what I mean).
Gould is the happy-go-lucky card shark who’s never suffered a really bad beat, and is indignant when it looks like he might. He bets on a fight and then bets on the fight that breaks out in the crowd after the fight (“2 to 1 on the lumberjack!”). When he gets held up at gunpoint in the parking lot, he becomes indignant, admonishing the crook to take half and get lost. He does.
Segal, on the other hand, has a more addictive personality. He’s in deep with his bookie, and is having trouble showing up for work on time. He meets Gould at a card room, and seems genuinely happy to have someone around who can make him laugh, even if Gould’s boundless energy and supreme confidence make him weary.
Gould introduces Segal to a couple of prostitutes, with whom he shares an odd, asexual relationship. They spend a lot of time getting beat up, most of the time deservedly.
This is not Altman’s finest work – it doesn’t have the complex worldview that films like Gosford Park or McCabe and Mrs. Miller have, nor the humor and style of MASH or Nashville. It is, however, valuable for its performances, and for its somewhat different view of gambling, which is typically portrayed as either a scourge or a sport. Altman seems to understand that it is both, alternately and sometimes at once.
This is a fairly dreadful transfer, and the poor quality of the master is probably at least part of the reason the film has gone so long without being released. But surely something could’ve been done with this mess, plagued as it is by excessive, overbearing graininess and truly unpleasant colors. No scene, night or day, is noticeably darker or lighter than any other, and the image has a flatness to it that is quite dreary.
:star: :star: 1/2
I have little to say about the audio track here, as it reproduces dialogue in a way that is almost always decipherable. There are very few sound effects, and though voices are intelligible, they tend to the shrill.
A Director and Cast Commentary track is included and Altman, as always, is frank and enjoyable to listen to. Some of the production details are interesting and instructive, as the film was made nearly thirty years ago.
:star: :star: 1/2
Though the presentation leaves much to be desired, the initial release of any film by an important director, after all these years, is something for which to be grateful. The interaction between the two leads, and Altman’s sure hand at the helm, make this worth a viewing for any fans of the principals or the subject matter. But maybe watch it on the TV in the bedroom – you know, the old direct-view set with the weird color balance and the horizontal bands moving up and down.