House of Games: Classic Waldorf Salad Recipe

Year Released: 1987
Directed by: David Mamet
Starring: Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna, Lilia Skala
(R, 102 min.)


"Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused." The Eurythmics

This classic 1987 offbeat Mamet vehicle is more like a game of chess than a film, where you are guaranteed a series of astonishing moves and counter moves. Our queen is a beautiful psychotherapist, aloof and repressed as only an analyst could be, and our knight a charming con man, one who sees deeper into her soul than she suspects.

On the surface Dr. Margaret Ford (Mamet’s then wife, Linsay Crouse) is in the catbird seat, coolly confident in her therapy sessions and newly rich and famous for her best seller, Driven: Obsession and Compulsion in Everyday Life. If she occasionally indulges in an innocent Freudian slip as she chats with her mentor, the sage Dr. Littauer (Lilia Skala), it is only that she is overworked.

So what if she says “pressures” when she means “pleasures.” It is probably because she has too many of the former and not enough of the latter. That she refers to the verbally abusive parent of her patient as “my” father is not so easily brushed aside.

She only needs to enjoy herself more and work less, Dr. Littauer tells her, but Maggie seems to ignore the advice. Her idea of a night out on the town is venturing to the seedy streets’ back door House of Games to redeem a gambling chit for one of her patients. There she meets Mike, who offers to forgive the debt if she helps him win his hand at the big stakes poker game going on in the smoky back room.

Beforehand Mike gives her a quick course in “tells,” the ways we inadvertently give away our secrets. For instance, Maggie unconsciously glances at her hand when holding a hidden coin, just as the Texan in the next room plays with his ring when he is bluffing. Except the Texan knows Mike has made his tell and wills himself not to do it. Maggie has only to watch him when Mike leaves the room and report if he plays with the ring.

He twists the ring; Maggie says go, even if the stakes are out of his league, and then Mike loses the hand. So quickly is she caught up in the game – or is it Mike who snares the good doctor’s interest – that Maggie is about to write a large check to cover his losses when she spots the tell and rips up the check.

Okay, they have played her, but instead of being upset, Maggie is all the more anxious to know the intricacies of their con games, which Mike and his cohorts patiently explain, like older boys introducing a novice to the facts of life.

And yes, underneath all this, we realize that it is sexuality that is behind Dr. Ford’s sudden interest in the life of a con man, even if she does not realize it herself. She returns to the dark streets once again, this time being drawn in more and more into their murky world of short cons and big stakes, and finally taking Dr. Littauer’s advice about giving herself some much needed pleasure. But at what cost?

In this 20 year old film we witness playwright Mamet’s directorial debut, where “flat performances are a stylistic statement,” just as dialogue is “deliberately artificial.” As his icy blond, Maggie is reminiscent of Marnie’s Tippi Hedren, somewhat grating in her aloofness and mannered speech. And like Marnie, this woman is seriously repressed, though Mamet only hints at its source instead of revealing its depths as Hitchcock does.

Mamet seems more concerned with the ways we deceive and like to be deceived, the ways we are seduced by corruption and corrupted by seduction than in delving into the psyches of fully fleshed characters. It is his game, and we can only sit back and enjoy its mystery, its “tells” and its cynical majesty.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Dr. Maggie is transformed at the end of the film, her understated business suits gone, replaced by a flowered frock, and confident smile. She has taken Dr. Littauer’s advice: When you have done something unforgivable, you must forgive yourself, certainly a byword for our times and strangely prescient of director Mamet.

Her luncheon date with her mentor will not, like old times, be postponed because of the pressures of therapy, and Dr. Maggie will certainly enjoy the buffet of Waldorf Salad. But perhaps even more enjoyable -- pilfering the golden cigarette lighter from the woman seated at the next table.

Classic Waldorf Salad

Waldorf salad [WAWL-dorf] Created at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1896 not by a chef but by the maître d'hôtel, (dining room manager) Oscar Tschirky, the Waldorf salad was an instant success.

The original version of this salad contained only apples, celery and mayonnaise. Chopped walnuts later became an integral part of the dish. Waldorf salad is usually served on top of a bed of lettuce.


  • 1 cup apples chopped, (Granny smith or a Sweet tart apple or a combination of different tart apples)

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 cup celery, chopped

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

  • 1/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Sprinkle apples with lemon juice after they are cut.

Add all other ingredients.

Toss to coat all pieces with mayonnaise.


Add a meat like Strips of Chicken Breast, Turkey, Smoked Turkey, Cubed smoked pork loin, or Grilled Salmon. For example if you have a salmon BBQ and have left overs, you can flake on top of the Waldorf salad, or lightly toss and make a nice entree.

Recipe Source: The Kitchen Project