Just days ago it was announced
that Martin Scorsese and long-time protégé Leo DiCaprio would be reunited for a remake of 1974's The Gambler
for Paramount. James Caan – whose star was still shining from his work on The Godfather
– played Axel Freed, a NYC English professor with a gambling addiction who twists the fate of one of his students for his own corrupt needs. The story was an autobiographical tale written for the screen by James Toback
, a former creative writer teacher at City College in New York. No one has bothered to contact Toback to inform him that they're using his story for Scorsese's remake, and the writer is not pleased. He recently took to Deadline
to share his thoughts and a fascinating story about the development of The Gambler
and studio politics.
Toback is no stranger to the industry, and points out that when his 1978 film Fingers
was remade by Jacques Audiard into the award-winning The Beat That My Heart Skipped
, the director had the courtesy to meet with the writer – " … 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." He goes on to explain that the slight is made worse because Irwin Winkler, The Gambler's
original producer, is part of the remake. DiCaprio was also at one point attached to Toback's directing deal for Harvard Man
, further aggravating the situation. "It struck me as particularly odd since I have been a friend and unlimited admirer of Leonardo’s since our initial encounter in 1994," Toback writes.
Legally, the studio doesn't need Toback's permission for the Scorsese remake, but as the screenwriter puts it: "So learning of the plan to ‘remake’ my movie at the same time and in the same fashion as any other devoted reader of this esteemed column, I suppose I should feel … what? That a tribute is being paid to a creation I left behind? I suppose. But one doesn’t always feel what one is supposed to feel … Rudeness, on the other hand, and disrespect yield their own unanticipated consequences.”
Toback's long lament is worth reading in full – particularly because of the compelling picture he paints of 1970's filmmaking. Also interesting is learning that he wanted Robert DeNiro for The Gambler's
lead role, and that Warren Beatty and Robert Redford were also being considered for the part before it went to Caan. It seems somewhat strange that Scorsese hasn't approached Toback yet, since he's often intensely delved into his source material. The director worked closely with Nicholas Pileggi – author of Wiseguy
, which was the inspiration behind the Academy Award-winning Goodfellas
. It's anyone's bet on why Scorsese is approaching this project differently.