Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

California Split (1974)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

California Split (1974)

In Robert Altman's semi-improvised comedy film and quintessential gambling and buddy movie set in the 1970s:

  • the camaraderie of the two compulsive poker players/casino gamblers: extroverted, wise-cracking and free-spirited joker Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) and introverted "California Inquire" magazine writer William "Bill" Denny (George Segal), who perpetually played at gambling venues - casinos, racetracks, boxing matches, private poker parlors, etc.
Charlie Waters
(Elliott Gould)
William "Bill" Denny
(George Segal)
  • the scene when the two (who were wrongfully accused of colluding with each other at a poker table) were thought to be cheating by irate fellow player Lew (Edward Walsh), with Charlie telling off the angry player after winning the game with a debatable card - a Joker that was dealt off the table's edge: "The man doesn't know how to play poker. The man is bad. He's a complete asshole. We all know that, right? The man goes broke, he can't handle it. The man is on tilt. You wanna hear any more?"
  • and shortly later, Charlie and Bill's meeting up in a bar where Bill challenged Charlie to a wager: "20 dollars says you can't name the Seven Dwarfs." When Charlie could only name three correctly: Doc, Dopey, and Grumpy, Bill claimed that he could name "all seven like a gatling gun," but then named only four: -- Sleepy, Grumpy, Doc, Dopey. Charlie confusingly suggested: "Dumbo...Dumbo wasn't in that cast?" Bill confirmed: "No Dumbo. Dumbo flew." Charlie called the name game a tie: "We both lose, huh?" And then Charlie mumbled on about race relations and the animated film: "A lot of black folks thought that was bad news, you know, seein' a black crow sing about a big flyin' elephant, what's that? It's taboo. No black crows"; they became a team after leaving, but they were both attacked and robbed by Lew and some thugs - and Charlie was kicked in the groin
  • Charlie's two roommates: professional escorts/hookers Barbara Miller (Ann Prentiss) and Susan Peters (Gwen Welles), and their main breakfast food items in the house -- beer and cereal (Froot Loops and Lucky Charms)
  • the next day, the nighttime scene after a winning boxing match bet in which Charlie brazenly and successfully negotiated with a black robber wielding a gun and threatening to shoot, to take only half of his recent winnings: ("Wait a second, you're not blowin' nothin', now. I don't believe it, two nights in a row, right, we're gonna get robbed...Here's $780, man. That's it. You got half, and we're takin' half. Now take the money and run. Go ahead. $780 man, don't think about it. Take the money and go. Get out of here, you f--kin' bum, get out of here, man")
  • Charlie's 'eye-for-an-eye' revenge against disgruntled player Lew, who was seen entering a public restroom at a race track; Charlie was the first to be punched and his bloodied nose was broken: ("That's the greatest punch I've ever been hit with"), but he was able to beat up Lew, kick him in the ribs, and rob him, and then told other men as they entered: ("You better call an ambulance. The man lost the last race, and he tried to kill himself")
  • after pooling their money, Charlie and Bill's arrival in Reno, Nevada for a concluding series of high-stakes gambling competitions - beginning with a poker game sequence (with a $2,000 buy-in), where Charlie sized up the competition by closely observing the personalities of the players - a bald guy, a guy with a Cowboy hat, a curly-haired Kid, an older Doctor with specs, a man wearing a Red Coat nicknamed Mr. Cha-Cha, an Invisible Man's "empty chair" (revealed later to be the chair of "Amarillo Slim"), a Mississippi man with a deep drawl ("the best in the game"), and a Chinaman, etc.; the Reno barmaid (Barbara Ruick) who had overheard the analysis complimented Charlie: "You did very well"
  • the series of games that Bill won - including poker against ex-champion "Amarillo Slim," blackjack, roulette ("26!!"), and craps (although Bill ended up sitting alone - exhausted, drained, apathetic and looking lost, while Charlie was exuberant as he cashed in at the Cashier window); afterwards, the two evenly split Bill's winnings of $82,000, as Charlie sarcastically asked his pal: "Do you always take a big win this hard?" Bill reiterated that there was "no special feeling"
  • Charlie's ending joke: "If it takes a watermelon five minutes to water, how long will it take a sweetpea to pee? As long as it takes a pair of dice to crap," followed by his assessment of the big win: "Don’t mean a f--kin' thing, does it?" Bill hinted with a serious look that they should quit and go their separate ways: "Charlie, I have to go home." Charlie queried: "Oh yeah? Where do you live?" Bill left: "I'll see ya."

Charlie's Two Roommates:
Barbara and Susan

Breakfast Cereal

Charlie's Assault by Robber and Negotiations To Take Half

Bloodied Nose in Fight Against Lew

High-Stakes Game in Reno

Bill Sitting Alone, Drained, and Apathetic After Winning

Ending Joke Before Splitting Ways


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