Martin Scorsese Didn't Ask James Toback To Remake The Gambler, And Toback Isn't Happy

Martin Scorsese
(Image credit: University of Illinois College of Media)

When the news hit late Friday night that Martin Scorsese and William Monahan were planning a remake of James Toback's 1974 drama The Gambler, it seemed fair to assume that Toback at least knew about it-- filmmakers, especially filmmakers as high-profile as Scorsese, generally want to stay on good terms with each other and ask permission before stepping on another guy's terrain. It seems Toback assumed he would know about a remake of his movie too, but it took a late night phone call for Brett Ratner for the director to have any idea that Martin Scorsese was taking his film for another spin.

In a very long, very well-written and very funny screed published at Deadline, Toback goes through not just his experience finding out about Scorsese's remake-- "my main feeling was one of disbelief that I was learning of these plans at the same time and in the same fashion as any of the regular devoted readers of this column"-- but how the film got made to begin with, including how Toback's first choice to play the role was Robert de Niro. When director Karel Reisz agreed to make the movie he had no interest in working with the young actor, who at that point didn't even have Mean Streets to his name, and De Niro's future The Godfather: Part II co-star James Caan was brought in for the leading role instead.

The article is a great slice of Hollywood history if you're interested in that kind of thing, but also a kind of primal cry from a director who clearly knows how the business works-- Paramount owns the rights to The Gambler and nobody actually had to ask him permission to remake it-- but thinks it could be done better. He compares this experience to what happened when director Jacques Audiard remade Toback's film Fingers as 2005's French film The Beat That My Heart Skipped:

My movie, Fingers, was remade as a Cesar prize-sweeping film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard, the great French filmmaker who called me from Paris and then flew to New York to discuss Fingers in great detail before redoing it, apparently not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal –notion that as long as they “own” something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator.Of course, the French have always had an entirely different set of laws and values governing intellectual property based on the poignant notion that a writer’s work cannot be tampered with by anyone even including someone who paid money to take ownership of it. This current experience conjures up memories of a banker who owned Harvard Man and once said to me: “To you this is a movie. To me this is a pair of shoes. My pair of shoes. And I will do whatever I like with it.”

Toback's piece appears to be going viral; is it wrong of me to wish for a Scorsese retort that turns this into a real public debate?

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend