Most people have a main reason for wanting to see a film, whether it's the concept, being a fan of a director, loving an actor or actress, having a thing for talented casts and curiosity. They have all been reasons for seeing a film numerous time, whether it's one of those, more than one or all. My main reason was Barbara Stanwyck, she was in a fair share of films that had material well beneath her but she always rose above it and very rarely gave a bad performance.
One can't go wrong with Joel McCrea in his first of six films with Stanwyck, when in a role that suits him, and C. Aubrey Smith who was always a scene stealer. Archie Mayo was not the most consistent of directors, but he was a more than able one and did do enough films that are worth watching such as 'Black Legion', 'It's Love I'm After' and 'The Petrified Forest'. 'Gambling Lady' doesn't see any of them at their best and all did much better films, but it is definitely worth a look and has enough to it to make it more than just a curio.
The cast is 'Gambling Lady's' biggest strength, so good that it is worth more than one star of my decided rating for the film. Stanwyck brings her usual steely toughness and has a sensuality also here too, making her character a lot more interesting than she seemed on paper. McCrea, in his first collaboration with Stanwyck, is likeable and plays his on paper not particularly interesting with cool charisma. O'Brien is good despite his underuse and makes the most of his too little material. Claire Dodd is suitably hissable. It was a shock to see Smith in the type of role he plays here and he was clearly having a lot of fun with it and some particularly juicy dialogue.
Some very funny moments in the script, which sparkles at its best. 'Gambling Lady' moves swiftly, is directed in tight fashion by Mayo and it is a good looking film too (not lavish but very nicely shot, some beautifully framed ones here, and always cohesively edited). Stanwyck looks great in her clothes.
'Gambling Lady' has its faults though. For pre-code, some of the material could have afforded to be bolder than turned out and edgier too. The ending comes across as very melodramatic and contrived, and some parts are on the soapy side.
Biggest drawback is the story. Pre-code films were often thin on the ground and silly in this regard, but the story here is very flimsy, in content initially and in depth, and sometimes later on over-complicated from trying to stuff too much in. It takes silliness and credibility straining to a whole new level, with some serious suspension of disbelief here needed to the extent that little makes sense. No real surprises here either.
Overall, not bad but not great. Just about worth taking a gamble on though. 6/10