California Split


1h 48m 1974
California Split

Brief Synopsis

A down on his luck gambler and a free spirit take an unscheduled gambling trip to Tijuana.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1974
Production Company
Columbia Pictures
Distribution Company
Sony Pictures Releasing

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

A gloomy pessimist and a messy manic team up for action and Fruit Loops--from the poker table... to the racing track... to the fights... to Vegas for craps roulette... and finally to a master game of blackjack, in obsessive search of that one big score.

Videos

Movie Clip

California Split (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Captain Midnight Confirming what seemed likely after the opening scene at an LA poker club, director Robert Altman moves to a strip bar and makes clear Charlie (Elliott Gould) and Bill (George Segal), who took the same side in a brawl, had never met before, Alyce Passman and Joanne Strauss the half-naked stripper and mother, early in California Split, 1974.
California Split (1974) -- (Movie Clip) Open, How To Play Poker Opening at an LA poker club, Robert Altman directing, roughly from a screenplay by actor and real-life gambler Joseph Walsh, we meet George Segal as Bill, Elliott Gould as Charlie, and non-actor Edward Walsh, brother of the screenwriter, as player “Lou,” in California Split, 1974, famous as the first feature shot with 8-track stereo sound.
California Split (1974) -- (Movie Clip) They Give You Powdered Eggs The morning after the night they met at an LA poker club then got mugged, Charlie (Elliott Gould) and Bill (George Segal) get bailed out by Barbara (Ann Prentiss, Paula’s younger sister) and meet her roommate (Gwen Welles), ad-libbing, misdirection and some exposition from director Robert Altman, early in California Split, 1974.
California Split (1974) -- (Movie Clip) You Don't Throw Oranges On An Escalator! The afternoon following their night in jail, writer Bill (George Segal) joins gambler Charlie (Elliott Gould) at LA’s Santa Anita race track, where their horse comes in with a photo finish, then a lady Charlie steered away from the horse (Barbara London) comes after them, Robert Altman directing on location, in California Split, 1974.

Promo

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1974
Production Company
Columbia Pictures
Distribution Company
Sony Pictures Releasing

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

California Split


Robert Altman was a unique quantity, as he emerged as a full-on American mega-auteur in the 1970s, when Hollywood's new-wavey thaw on formula, cliché and pap took hold for certain, but a full generation older than the film school brat contemporaries like Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Rafelson, Hellman, et al., that dominated the scene. (A decade and a half earlier, he was directing TV episodes while Scorsese and Coppola were still in grade school.) By the Nixon years, the things Altman brought to the table felt sui generis - his films did not resemble or sound like anyone else's, and his distinctive throng-of-American-chaos vocabulary was immediately grasped as one of the era's idiomatic voices. Still today, the famous Altmanic textures - spontaneous narrative collage, Babel-like aural chaos, superbly evoked off-screen space, focus-challenged compositions, foreground foofaraw - are indelible, alive with possibilities, and anything but faux-omniscient in the classic Hollywood mode.

His best films from this period - eight acidic masterpieces, from McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) to 3 Women (1977) - play still like Lasik cuts into American mythology. (I'm excluding the bizarrely overrated M*A*S*H, from 1970, an unfocused and infantile anti-war farce better remembered than freshly seen.) Arguably the least remembered from those years, California Split (1974) is American film's greatest, savviest, most convincing indictment of gambling culture, and because it's so incisive in its textures, it also treats gambling as a metaphor for all variety of American narcissism and folly. Altman makes it look so easy - just be real, he's saying, just watch these fools for who they really are. The fools in question are Elliott Gould and George Segal as, respectively, a committed no-holds-barred gambling junkie and an angsty journalist on the verge of vanishing like his friend into the grimy, smoky, high-strung universe of all-or-nothing betting. They meet (in an old-lady-packed poker den), they bond, they drink, they get mugged, they share flops and hookers, they come up with schemes, they abandon responsibility and bounce from Vegas to Tijuana to Reno - and all the while Altman doesn't recreate this all-American landscape accurately as much as visit the real deal with his camera, shooting conversations from across the room as if by accident, hunkering down with his protagonists in hotel bars and parking lots and listening to them spin their wheels, letting the spectacle of the self-destructing American Dream play itself out in our nation's least reputable corners. The '70s were a new era in American movies for a lot of reasons, but let us not overlook that it was the time in which movies discovered American subcultures, and placed them center stage.

For the first time, the real America of rodeo, auto-racing, beauty pageants, cockfighting, nomadism, football, door-to-door salesmen, dance marathons, skiing, prostitution, oil rig work, forgotten small towns, hillbillies, low-rent boxing, hobo-dom, ad infinitum, was what the nation's movie culture was interested in, as if Hollywood had suddenly discovered this fascinating and unknown country of obsessives and lost boys for the first time. The truth of what being American was like was suddenly a priority, and no one explored this idea as thoroughly and evocatively as Altman, who liberally sprinkles in real gamblers and bystanders, always uses authentic locations, and never forces drama or comedy when an organic implosion is always possible.

Of course, in the 'Nam-Nixon' era, the news wasn't optimistic. California Split dives into the maelstrom, and we smell trouble on these bad boys from the word go, even though Altman and screenwriter Joseph Walsh are wise and wicked enough to not give us quite the disastrous third act we might be expecting. In the meantime, the contrast between the two men is potent: Gould's loudmouth nut expects nothing (not even profit) and owes nothing, and so he is the classic up-tempo idiot, only interested in the juiced feeling of risking everything, while Segal's Everyman has a foot in both worlds, and is mired in gambling debt - he makes the mistake of letting the final Big Score, at a heavy-hand invitation-only poker game in Reno, matter to him. It's Segal's soul that's on the line here, sacrificed to the unstoppable whims of easy money and sky-high daydreams, which is why the intensely sneaky ending has the unforeseeable existential impact it does.

Certainly, it's a film, like all of Altman's best, that is contingent on performance, but a particular kind of performance - the '70s style of post-Brando, post-Cassavetes naturalism. Gould has never been as smooth and irritatingly believable as he is in California Split - it's just as difficult to remember today how natural it seemed in the '70s to have unglamorous, gnarly-looking people like Gould and Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman serve as bona-fide movie stars, as it is to recall Gould's nascent authenticity then in light of his stilted appearances during the last few decades, as in the Ocean's 11 series. But Altman's film really belongs to Segal. One of that decade's genuine miracles, Segal nailed down comic self-doubt and shame-poisoned intelligence like no one else, and watching him twist in the wind of this high-tension scenario is a dazzling spectacle.

California Split is by definition a comedy, and it is often brilliantly funny. But in its bones the movie actually scans more like American-century Dostoyevsky, with comp cocktails and cheap casino carpet. There's a dark river of loss and delusion running beneath the yocks and men-behaving-badly shenanigans, because that's what the era demanded: no bull. Win or lose, the film's heroes are lost in the funhouse.

Producers: Robert Altman, Joseph Walsh
Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joseph Walsh
Cinematography: Paul Lohmann
Art Direction: Leon Ericksen
Film Editing: O. Nicholas Brown, Lou Lombardo
Cast: George Segal (Bill Denny), Elliott Gould (Charlie Waters), Ann Prentiss (Barbara Miller), Gwen Welles (Susan Peters), Edward Walsh (Lew), Joseph Walsh (Sparkie), Bert Remsen (Helen Brown), Barbara London (Lady on the Bus), Barbara Ruick (Reno Barmaid), Jay Fletcher (Robber)
C-105m.

by Michael Atkinson
California Split

California Split

Robert Altman was a unique quantity, as he emerged as a full-on American mega-auteur in the 1970s, when Hollywood's new-wavey thaw on formula, cliché and pap took hold for certain, but a full generation older than the film school brat contemporaries like Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Rafelson, Hellman, et al., that dominated the scene. (A decade and a half earlier, he was directing TV episodes while Scorsese and Coppola were still in grade school.) By the Nixon years, the things Altman brought to the table felt sui generis - his films did not resemble or sound like anyone else's, and his distinctive throng-of-American-chaos vocabulary was immediately grasped as one of the era's idiomatic voices. Still today, the famous Altmanic textures - spontaneous narrative collage, Babel-like aural chaos, superbly evoked off-screen space, focus-challenged compositions, foreground foofaraw - are indelible, alive with possibilities, and anything but faux-omniscient in the classic Hollywood mode. His best films from this period - eight acidic masterpieces, from McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) to 3 Women (1977) - play still like Lasik cuts into American mythology. (I'm excluding the bizarrely overrated M*A*S*H, from 1970, an unfocused and infantile anti-war farce better remembered than freshly seen.) Arguably the least remembered from those years, California Split (1974) is American film's greatest, savviest, most convincing indictment of gambling culture, and because it's so incisive in its textures, it also treats gambling as a metaphor for all variety of American narcissism and folly. Altman makes it look so easy - just be real, he's saying, just watch these fools for who they really are. The fools in question are Elliott Gould and George Segal as, respectively, a committed no-holds-barred gambling junkie and an angsty journalist on the verge of vanishing like his friend into the grimy, smoky, high-strung universe of all-or-nothing betting. They meet (in an old-lady-packed poker den), they bond, they drink, they get mugged, they share flops and hookers, they come up with schemes, they abandon responsibility and bounce from Vegas to Tijuana to Reno - and all the while Altman doesn't recreate this all-American landscape accurately as much as visit the real deal with his camera, shooting conversations from across the room as if by accident, hunkering down with his protagonists in hotel bars and parking lots and listening to them spin their wheels, letting the spectacle of the self-destructing American Dream play itself out in our nation's least reputable corners. The '70s were a new era in American movies for a lot of reasons, but let us not overlook that it was the time in which movies discovered American subcultures, and placed them center stage. For the first time, the real America of rodeo, auto-racing, beauty pageants, cockfighting, nomadism, football, door-to-door salesmen, dance marathons, skiing, prostitution, oil rig work, forgotten small towns, hillbillies, low-rent boxing, hobo-dom, ad infinitum, was what the nation's movie culture was interested in, as if Hollywood had suddenly discovered this fascinating and unknown country of obsessives and lost boys for the first time. The truth of what being American was like was suddenly a priority, and no one explored this idea as thoroughly and evocatively as Altman, who liberally sprinkles in real gamblers and bystanders, always uses authentic locations, and never forces drama or comedy when an organic implosion is always possible. Of course, in the 'Nam-Nixon' era, the news wasn't optimistic. California Split dives into the maelstrom, and we smell trouble on these bad boys from the word go, even though Altman and screenwriter Joseph Walsh are wise and wicked enough to not give us quite the disastrous third act we might be expecting. In the meantime, the contrast between the two men is potent: Gould's loudmouth nut expects nothing (not even profit) and owes nothing, and so he is the classic up-tempo idiot, only interested in the juiced feeling of risking everything, while Segal's Everyman has a foot in both worlds, and is mired in gambling debt - he makes the mistake of letting the final Big Score, at a heavy-hand invitation-only poker game in Reno, matter to him. It's Segal's soul that's on the line here, sacrificed to the unstoppable whims of easy money and sky-high daydreams, which is why the intensely sneaky ending has the unforeseeable existential impact it does. Certainly, it's a film, like all of Altman's best, that is contingent on performance, but a particular kind of performance - the '70s style of post-Brando, post-Cassavetes naturalism. Gould has never been as smooth and irritatingly believable as he is in California Split - it's just as difficult to remember today how natural it seemed in the '70s to have unglamorous, gnarly-looking people like Gould and Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman serve as bona-fide movie stars, as it is to recall Gould's nascent authenticity then in light of his stilted appearances during the last few decades, as in the Ocean's 11 series. But Altman's film really belongs to Segal. One of that decade's genuine miracles, Segal nailed down comic self-doubt and shame-poisoned intelligence like no one else, and watching him twist in the wind of this high-tension scenario is a dazzling spectacle. California Split is by definition a comedy, and it is often brilliantly funny. But in its bones the movie actually scans more like American-century Dostoyevsky, with comp cocktails and cheap casino carpet. There's a dark river of loss and delusion running beneath the yocks and men-behaving-badly shenanigans, because that's what the era demanded: no bull. Win or lose, the film's heroes are lost in the funhouse. Producers: Robert Altman, Joseph Walsh Director: Robert Altman Screenplay: Joseph Walsh Cinematography: Paul Lohmann Art Direction: Leon Ericksen Film Editing: O. Nicholas Brown, Lou Lombardo Cast: George Segal (Bill Denny), Elliott Gould (Charlie Waters), Ann Prentiss (Barbara Miller), Gwen Welles (Susan Peters), Edward Walsh (Lew), Joseph Walsh (Sparkie), Bert Remsen (Helen Brown), Barbara London (Lady on the Bus), Barbara Ruick (Reno Barmaid), Jay Fletcher (Robber) C-105m. by Michael Atkinson

Robert Altman's California Split on DVD


It only took a scant 30 years after its theatrical debut, but California Split (1974), director Robert Altman's engagingly seamy character study of a pair of inveterate gamblers (Elliot Gould, George Segal) who live to feed their shared compulsion, has finally made its way to home video. This recent DVD release from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment should delight the considerable cult that has built up around the film over the years, and will intrigue newcomers with its surprisingly edgy (for its time) approach to the material.

The project was obviously a personal one for co-producer Gould, whose own taste for action helped inspire the story; the script is the handiwork of co-producer, veteran character actor and Gould crony Joseph Walsh, who admittedly drew upon their own escapades in rendering his narrative. Bill Denny (Segal), one of the meandering tale's protagonists, puts in the occasional hour at his job as a L.A. magazine editor when he's not feeding his habit. His fate intertwines with that of Charlie Walters (Gould), who's got no apparent livelihood beyond his gaming, but seemingly does well enough to share a tacky rancher with a pair of amiable hookers (Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles). Their first encounter comes while sharing the table at a poker hall, where Charlie's success is sufficient to provoke one short-tempered player into slugging dealer Bill. In the wake of the melee that follows, they have a chance encounter at a local bar; this set-up allows for the film's signature moments, ad-libbed by the two leads, where they wager on Bill's ability to name all Seven Dwarves.

Charlie and Bill get to bond even further when they get mugged for their winnings and picked up on drunk and disorderly charges. As the friendship grows, Bill finds himself simultaneously discomfited and fascinated by Charlie's quirky existence, and gets himself all too easily coaxed out of the office when Charlie wants his presence at the track or at ringside. Bill's cravings, unfortunately, begin to run up against a seeming interminable losing streak, and he drives himself further and further into hock, incurring the wrath of his about-out-of-patience bookie (Walsh). With Charlie staking him, the pair head to Reno in order to buy into a huge-stakes game, with Bill's life riding on their success.

For that stretch between M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975), Altman was inarguably at the top of his game, enjoying his largest commercial successes and an unbroken string of critical acclaim. California Split is typical of his idiosyncratic approach, character-driven in the extreme and replete with the trademarked layers of dialogue and action that challenge the viewer's focus. (The film was the first to utilize eight-track recording, and Altman milks the effect for all it's worth.) Charlie's lifestyle is rendered with a singular earthiness; for the most part, the film's extras were recruited from the recovery house Synanon.

The movie benefits from the frequently improvised work of the two stars, each then at the height of his box-office appeal. Welles and Prentiss offered endearing characterizations, and enjoyable efforts abound throughout the cast, from Walsh's brother Edward as the boys' poker-hall nemesis to Altman regular Bert Remsen as a transvestite client of the girls. You can briefly catch Jeff Goldblum, in his movie debut, as Segal's boy boss.

The image transfer for the DVD leans toward the grainy, but for films of the era in general and Altman's efforts in particular, that's hardly surprising, and it therefore doesn't detract from the overall experience. The DVD's most noteworthy extra is the audio commentary, in which Altman, Gould, Segal and Walsh sit down to review their handiwork for the first time in an apparent while. It's nothing incredibly profound-- Altman, quizzed by one of the actors about a choice of camera set-up, declared that he didn't remember-- but the anecdotes are pleasant enough, and fans will have a good time.

For more information about California Split, visit Sony Pictures. To order California Split, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg

Robert Altman's California Split on DVD

It only took a scant 30 years after its theatrical debut, but California Split (1974), director Robert Altman's engagingly seamy character study of a pair of inveterate gamblers (Elliot Gould, George Segal) who live to feed their shared compulsion, has finally made its way to home video. This recent DVD release from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment should delight the considerable cult that has built up around the film over the years, and will intrigue newcomers with its surprisingly edgy (for its time) approach to the material. The project was obviously a personal one for co-producer Gould, whose own taste for action helped inspire the story; the script is the handiwork of co-producer, veteran character actor and Gould crony Joseph Walsh, who admittedly drew upon their own escapades in rendering his narrative. Bill Denny (Segal), one of the meandering tale's protagonists, puts in the occasional hour at his job as a L.A. magazine editor when he's not feeding his habit. His fate intertwines with that of Charlie Walters (Gould), who's got no apparent livelihood beyond his gaming, but seemingly does well enough to share a tacky rancher with a pair of amiable hookers (Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles). Their first encounter comes while sharing the table at a poker hall, where Charlie's success is sufficient to provoke one short-tempered player into slugging dealer Bill. In the wake of the melee that follows, they have a chance encounter at a local bar; this set-up allows for the film's signature moments, ad-libbed by the two leads, where they wager on Bill's ability to name all Seven Dwarves. Charlie and Bill get to bond even further when they get mugged for their winnings and picked up on drunk and disorderly charges. As the friendship grows, Bill finds himself simultaneously discomfited and fascinated by Charlie's quirky existence, and gets himself all too easily coaxed out of the office when Charlie wants his presence at the track or at ringside. Bill's cravings, unfortunately, begin to run up against a seeming interminable losing streak, and he drives himself further and further into hock, incurring the wrath of his about-out-of-patience bookie (Walsh). With Charlie staking him, the pair head to Reno in order to buy into a huge-stakes game, with Bill's life riding on their success. For that stretch between M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975), Altman was inarguably at the top of his game, enjoying his largest commercial successes and an unbroken string of critical acclaim. California Split is typical of his idiosyncratic approach, character-driven in the extreme and replete with the trademarked layers of dialogue and action that challenge the viewer's focus. (The film was the first to utilize eight-track recording, and Altman milks the effect for all it's worth.) Charlie's lifestyle is rendered with a singular earthiness; for the most part, the film's extras were recruited from the recovery house Synanon. The movie benefits from the frequently improvised work of the two stars, each then at the height of his box-office appeal. Welles and Prentiss offered endearing characterizations, and enjoyable efforts abound throughout the cast, from Walsh's brother Edward as the boys' poker-hall nemesis to Altman regular Bert Remsen as a transvestite client of the girls. You can briefly catch Jeff Goldblum, in his movie debut, as Segal's boy boss. The image transfer for the DVD leans toward the grainy, but for films of the era in general and Altman's efforts in particular, that's hardly surprising, and it therefore doesn't detract from the overall experience. The DVD's most noteworthy extra is the audio commentary, in which Altman, Gould, Segal and Walsh sit down to review their handiwork for the first time in an apparent while. It's nothing incredibly profound-- Altman, quizzed by one of the actors about a choice of camera set-up, declared that he didn't remember-- but the anecdotes are pleasant enough, and fans will have a good time. For more information about California Split, visit Sony Pictures. To order California Split, go to TCM Shopping. by Jay S. Steinberg

Quotes

Trivia

First movie to use eight-track stereo sound.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States 2014

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)

Released in United States 2014 (Revivals)

Lion's Gate 8-Track Systems

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974