California Split (1974): Robert Altman on Gambling with Elliott Gould and George Segal

One of the most original but less accessible of Robert Altman’s 1970s films, California Split centers on the lifestyles of two compulsive gamblers, endlessly searching for the big score.

California Split

The duo are played by Elliott Gould (also in Altman’s M.A.S.H. and The Long Goodbye) and George Segal, then at the height of their popularity.

Bill (Segal), single and soon-to-be-unemployed, joins his live-wire pal Charlie (Elliott Gould), as the pair moves from Fruit Loops with Charlie’s hooker roommates Sue (Gwen Welles) and Barbara (Ann Prentiss) to bets on horses, card games, boxing, and basketball.

They make it to Reno, Nevada, all right, when Bill realizes that even the big score may not be the answer to the meaning of life.

Many critics and most viewers found the movie to be too loose and rambling (unfairly describing it as an actor workshop), but they appreciated its non-judgmental approach.

Occasionally, the film is pretentious, too, in its existential effort to comment on the obsession with–but ultimate futility of–the idea of winning in American culture.

Altman encouraged the two leads to engage in improvisational acting, which he hoped would contribute to the a more deft characterization.

The movie is personal: Altman’s father was an inveterate gambler, and he himself has been gambling.


Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by Joseph Walsh, Robert Altman
Written by Joseph Walsh
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Edited by O. Nicholas Brown, Lou Lombardo

Production company: Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Won World

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: August 7, 1974

Running time: 108 minutes