Phenomenal “The Gambler,” originally “Kenny Rogers as The Gambler,” was a film series (1980 to the early ’90s) that was just as good as this legend’s signature song. The film was directed by Dick Lowry and was closely inspired by Kenny Rogers’ Grammy-winning tune.
The Film Plot
The main character, Brady Hawkes (played by Kenny Rogers), receives a message from his estranged son, Jeremiah (portrayed by Ronnie Scribner) asking for help. He and his mother Eliza (Christine Belford) live in Yuma with Jeremiah’s stepdad, Rufe Bennett (Clu Gulager).
Rufe Bennett was a casino owner who has an abusive streak toward his family. After reading the letter, Hawkes immediately boarded a train to El Paso Texas to meet his long lost son. Along the way, Hawkes met the young poker player Billy Montana (Bruce Boxleitner).
Montana was on his way for an international poker tournament in San Francisco. In the course of their travel, Montana tried to cheat Hawkes, but Hawkes stayed level-headed during their train ride. The duo would, later on, help Jennie Reed (Lee Purcell), a former prostitute who got into trouble with the baron. It ended in a shootout.
1983: The Adventure Continues
The 1983 film was the continuation of the 1980 release. This reached a higher rating success than the first installment for The Gambler series.
The film featured Billy Montana, Brady Hawkes, and his son Jeremiah travelling for a gambling event in San Francisco. They clashed with the McCourt gang who took Jeremiah as their hostage and asked for $1 million ransom. Brady and Billy were determined to bring back Jeremiah. They met up with Kate Muldoon (Linda Evans) a female bounty hunter in the west. The trio then went on a mission to rescue Jeremiah.
1987: The Legend Continues
In this part of The Gambler series, Billy and Brady were on a mission to help protect Sioux Indians from the government’s oppressive displacements and the cattle thieves’ threats.
1991: The Luck of Draw
This installment featured Country music legend, Reba McEntire. Rogers continued to play the lead role as Hawkes for the fourth part.
The movie reflected the time of 1906 where professional gambling will be outlawed in the next three weeks. Burgundy Jones (Reba McEntire) brought Hawkes to the last poker tournament in San Francisco. The plot later revealed that there was a mystery player. This situation made it tough for Hawkes as he is still trying to cope with the loss he suffered from an English poker player who also happens to attend the San Francisco tournament.
1994: Playing for Keeps
This was the first without Lowry calling the cuts as director for The Gambler. Jack Bender was the director of this fifth installment.
This featured Hawkes trying to save his son Jeremiah before he gets to prison, or worse dead. This happened after Jeremiah crossed paths with outlaws Butchy Cassidy (Scott Paulin) and the Sundance Kid (Brett Cullen).
“I found an ace that I could keep”
– Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
The Gambler was one of Dick Lowry’s early works. This was produced by Kragen & Company which also was one of their earliest produced films. This was also Kenny Rogers’ first starring role.
The first release in 1980 was a big rating success which also received The Eddie Award for Best Edited Television Special. The film also had two Emmy Nominations: Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series and Special and Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series. Four sequels were filmed for the next fifteen years.
The Gambler Farewell
In 2011, Kenny Rogers was at the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show and was asked if he wanted to star in another The Gambler movie. He responded that he would have difficulty because of a bad knee. The film producers and staff would have to shoot a scene where Rogers got shot to cover his limitations.
Soon enough, Rogers’ announced his retirement from the show business. He also revealed that his 2016 tour would be the last one. Since then, we haven’t heard much about Rogers except that he spent the rest of his retirement years with his family until his recent passing.