Nobody captures the smoggy, smoked-out hangover that is Los Angeles better than Robert Altman did in the ‘70s. With his shaggy ambling muse Elliot Gould along for the ride, Altman mapped the sunburnt terrain with a bemused, amused accuracy that makes any L.A. stoner sigh with satisfaction. Gould and George Segal bounce wildly off one another in California Split – an exploration of compulsive gambling that ranks alongside Nashville and McCabe & Mrs. Miller as one of Altman’s finest works. Gould is the devil-may-care wild man, living on couches and a diet of cereal; Segal is a successful magazine publisher, the man with something to lose. Working with one of his most finely-tuned acting ensembles (including Bert Remsen, Gwen Welles and a very young Jeff Goldblum), Altman captures the sumptuously seedy side of the Southland without ever sacrificing the grace and dignity that these poor souls deserve. A feast of detail and subtle characterization, California Split is best experienced in the theater, where, like the gaming floor, you never really know what time of day it is.
Dir. Robert Altman, 1974, 35mm, 108 min.