House of Games (1987)

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Released 10-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 97:15
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (50:08) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Mamet

Starring Lindsay Crouse
Joe Mantegna
Mike Nussbaum
Lilia Skala
J.T. Walsh
Willo Hausman
Karen Kohlhaas
Steven Goldstein
Jack Wallace
Ricky Jay
G. Roy Levin
Bob Lumbra
Andy Potok
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Alaric Jans

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles French
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) is a psychiatrist and author. While she is outwardly successful, she seems to have little rapport with her clients. One of them, Billy, threatens to kill himself in front of her. When she calms him down, she finds out that he has accrued a debt of $25,000 with a gambler named Mike, who is threatening to kill him if he does not pay.

    Convinced that Mike is just a bully, Margaret goes to the House of Games, a pool hall and gambling joint where Mike (Joe Mantegna) plies his trade. After confronting him, Mike shows her that Billy's marker is only $800, not $25,000. Mike says he will waive the debt if Margaret helps him win the poker game he is in. Mike demonstrates to her the "tell", the tell-tale sign that gives away what the gambler is thinking. There is a player in the game who has a tell where he twists his ring when he is bluffing, but the player is aware that Mike knows this. So Mike wants Margaret to look for the tell when he goes to the bathroom during a high stakes game.

    To say more than this would be to give the whole plot away, but suffice it to say that all is not as it seems. Margaret is fascinated by the world of confidence tricksters and convinces Mike to let her watch him in operation as material for her next book. There also seems to be a mutual attraction, and Mike agrees to let her tag along. The games that are played between these two characters form the meat of this film, directed by playwright David Mamet from his own Pinteresque screenplay.

    Whether or not you like this film will depend on your reaction to the performances. The dialogue is very precise and is delivered in a deliberate manner most of the time, especially by Crouse. Her performance seems wooden and lacking in life, and her delivery of lines lacking in inflection, but this could also be her (or her then husband Mamet's) interpretation of Margaret's personality. Margaret seems to be happy only when writing - the first time we see her she is writing - not when interacting with people, and her private and professional lives are barren. If you can accept this, then Mategna's dynamic performance as Mike is an effective counterpoint. He is everything she wants to be: smoothly warm and confident, sure of himself and able to relate to others quickly.

    Mamet's script is very theatrical, reflecting his experience as a playwright. But while this is his first film as a director he clearly shows some talent for making films. A lot of things are shown rather than told to the audience, even down to the levels of objects and clothing as reflective of the changes the characters undergo. The emptiness of the Seattle streets used as a backdrop also says something about the characters and their lives (or the film's budget). Most of the film is static, so if you approach this as if it was a filmed play you will find it easier to get into.

    I find this film fascinating and a nice antidote to the shallow action films that pass for cinema fare nowadays. Highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is sharp and clear, with an acceptable level of detail. This is not as sharp as transfers of more recent films, but is certainly acceptable for this film. Shadow detail is satisfactory, and there were very few sequences where I felt that more detail should be visible. The movie does not really have a film look to it - it looks more like a widescreen television programme.

    Colours tend to fluctuate throughout the film. For the most part, the colour is lifelike and vivid, though bright colours seem to have been avoided where possible by the filmmakers. The convertible car is a nice bright red, and Crouse wears some primary colours which look fine in this transfer. There are times however where skin tones do not look quite accurate, but this may be how it appears in the source material. Blacks are quite black without being absolutely so, but I could not detect any low level noise.

    Apart from an instance of the moire effect at 8:31 on the Venetian blinds in Margaret's office, and some pixelization on the red tail lights of the van at 67:13, there is some chroma noise visible in some scenes.

    Film artefacts are thankfully few, with only two major instances of damage. There is a large white spot briefly at 36:59 and another at 93:04. From the later spot until the end of the film there are a handful of smaller artefacts visible for very brief periods. Of more concern is the level of telecine wobble in the early part of the film, exacerbated by a fair bit of judder.

    Subtitles in English and other languages are provided. The English subtitles are large enough to be easily readable and appear to match the dialogue.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring at 50:08. This occurs during a scene change to black and is not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0, and I think this is actually mono. There are also alternative audio tracks in Italian, Spanish, French and German.

    The dialogue comes across clearly and distinctly, which is good considering this is a dialogue-driven film. There are no obvious problems with the sound to speak of that are not simply the limitations of the original recording. Audio sync is exemplary. There is no surround encoding present.

    What music there is is inconspicuous. A Bach Toccata is played over the opening credits, and the rest of the film has very little music, apart from some softly played jazz by Alaric Jans.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer

    An original trailer for the film is included, in 1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced. This is not in as good a condition as the feature, with numerous film artefacts, and there is an annoying sibilance to the sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release is presented on a dual sided disc with the film in 1.85:1 but not 16x9 enhanced on one side (one review says this is 1.69:1), and a pan and scan 1.33:1 transfer on the other. In both cases, the audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. It also has only the French and Spanish mono audio tracks. Reviews indicate that the transfer is of relatively poorer quality than the Region 4 release, so the latter is obviously preferable.

    The UK Region 2 appears to be the identical to the Region 4 release.


    An entertaining and thought provoking piece, this film retained my interest from first to last. It may not be to everyone's taste, though.

    The video quality is average.

    The audio quality is good.

    Only a trailer for extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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