Great Sinner: Siodmak’s Loose Adaptation of Dostoyevsky

This loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s great novel, The Gambler, is directed by German born Robert Siodmak as a lavish (but dull) production, with a top notch cast, headed by Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner at their most glamorous shape.

Gregory Peck stars as Fedja, a young, sensitive 19th-century Russian author. His “great sin” is gambling, which begins when he attempts to rescue aristocratic Pauline Ostrovski (Ava Gardner) from the gaming tables.

They meet accidentally aboard a train, upon which Fedja changes his destination (Paris) and gets off to follow Pauline—until he finds her at a gambling casino.

He succeeds, only to lose himself to gambling fever, which costs him his friends, his reputation and his talent.

Reportedly, director Siodmak was disappointed with the screenplay, which is verbose. It is always a bad sign when the most vital and dramatic information is conveyed in voice-over narration (by Fedja here).

Episodic to a fault, the tale lacks logical continuity. Constant revisions bloated the film’s initial assemblage to five hours.

Dostoyevsky’s philosophical observations and moral ambiguity get lost in this version, co-scripted by Ladislas Fodor and Rene Fulop-Miller.

The supporting cast includes such luminaries as Ethel Barrymore as the grandmother, Melvyn Douglas as Armand de Glasse, Frank Morgan as Aristide Pitard, and Walter Huston as General Ostrovski (Barrymore’s son).

After Siodmak pared the listless film down, MGM insisted that the director reshoot some extra love scenes to make the movie more commercial. When Siodmak refused, the new sequences were shot by Mervin LeRoy.

This was the second teaming of Siodmak and Ava Gardner, after their successful and better film, the classic “The Killers,” back in 1946.

Credits

Running time: 110 minutes

Directed by Robert Siodmak.

Written by Ladislas Fodor and Rene Fulop-Miller.