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On October 11, 1987, David Mamet’s first film, the diabolically tricky House of Games, made its U.S. premiere as the closing-night selection of the New York Film Festival. Mamet had already conquered the world of theater, winning a Pulitzer Prize for 1984’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and was now turning his attention to the cinema. Hardly just filmed stage drama, the moody, atmospheric House of Games—about a woman (Lindsay Crouse) drawn into an underworld populated by con men—proved that Mamet had a true filmmaker’s eye, while at same time successfully translating to the screen his trademark rat-a-tat dialogue. One big reason Mamet’s verbal rhythms work so well here is undoubtedly actor Joe Mantegna, who had earned a Tony for Glengarry before Mamet cast him in House of Games, and whose odd, tough-guy cadences are essential to the film’s weird world. In this clip from an interview on Criterion’s edition of the movie, Mantegna discusses his personal relationship with Mamet and why he feels they’re kindred creative spirits.
Now watch Mantegna in action in this scene from early on in House of Games, where he clues in Crouse’s outsider to a trick of the trade before leading into the world of the con artist with a seemingly simple request.