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Bingo and Hollywood: All you never knew you needed to know

by Tom Walsh

Casinos and the games people play there have long had a relationship with action on the big and small screens. Perhaps because of their handy use as a metaphor for the suspense that underpins the storyline unfolding on screen, games like poker and roulette have been fundamental to some of the biggest movies. That it allows the director to use glitzy establishing shots of Las Vegas has been helpful, no doubt. 

Of course, the use of casino scenes has been a little imbalanced in which games they tend to portray. As mentioned, poker and roulette have had their time in the spotlight, while blackjack and slots show up now and then. But you pretty much never see James Bond distractedly frowning over a game of Keno, and few Hollywood films have ever led to players seeking out bingo sites not on Gamstop, even if – as anyone who has ever played in a bingo hall can tell you – the game has plenty of suspense of its own. However, bingo has played its part in several movies and TV shows – and the following are a few examples…

Better Call Saul

In the prequel to Breaking Bad, AMC’s deeper exploration of the character of Jimmy McGill showcased Bob Odenkirk’s acting talents in a way we’d never seen before. And, astoundingly, one of the best showpieces of its debut season took place at a bingo game in a residential home. The monologue in episode 10, Marco, is played to perfection by all involved, a genuinely heart-wrenching meltdown that has hints of how and why the happy-go-lucky underdog Jimmy became the cynical, money-laundering Saul of Breaking Bad.

Rampage (2009)

Uwe Boll’s cinematic oeuvre has been compared unfavorably with the tragic Ed Wood, and when you bear in mind that Wood was so bad at making films that they ended up making a film about him, that’s a sore one for Boll. But the critics genuinely liked Rampage, a twisted story about a character who feels out of kilter with the world and goes on a violent spree. Perhaps the standout scene is where the central character Bill enters a bingo hall looking to intimidate the people playing there. His heavily-armed, armor-clad presence barely raises an eyebrow and he leaves without harming anyone. Bingo players take their game seriously; it’ll take more than that to get them to raise their eyes from their cards.

The Naked Gun (1988)

OK, so this one is tenuous, but merits inclusion here for being perhaps the best sight gag of all time. As Lt. Frank Drebin, played of course by Leslie Nielsen, searches the desk of antagonist Vincent Ludwig, he’s hoping he’ll find proof of Ludwig’s plan to assassinate the Queen. Rummaging through a desk, he triumphantly proclaims “Bingo”. The camera pans to show what he has found, and it is (of course) a bingo card.

The Babadook

Like Jimmy McGill, the central character of this 2014 horror, widow Amelia, is calling a game of bingo for residents of a care home. The intention is to bring some levity to their day, but it goes badly and deepens the well of depression in which Amelia is languishing, preparing us for the descent that marks the rest of the film.

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