Carefree single guy Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) rooms with two lovely prostitutes, Barbara Miller (Ann Prentiss) and Susan Peters (Gwen Welles), and lives to gamble. Along with his glum betting buddy, Bill Denny (George Segal), Charlie sets out on a gambling streak in search of the ever-elusive big payday. While Charlie and Bill have some lucky moments, they also have to contend with serious setbacks that threaten to derail their hedonistic betting binge.
- George Segal as Bill Denny
- Elliott Gould as Charlie Waters
- Ann Prentiss as Barbara Miller
- Gwen Welles as Susan Peters
- Edward Walsh as Lew
- Joseph Walsh as Sparkie
- Bert Remsen as Helen Brown
- Jeff Goldblum as Lloyd Harris
Roger Ebert, in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote, "At the end of California Split we realize that Altman has made a lot more than a comedy about gambling; he's taken us into an American nightmare, and all the people we met along the way felt genuine and looked real." Lauding the film as "a great movie and [...] a great experience, too," he awarded it a full four stars.
Vincent Canby in The New York Times called it "a fascinating and vivid movie, not quite comparable to any other movie that I can immediately think of." He praised the film for being "dense with fine, idiosyncratic detail, a lot of which is supplied by Mr. Gould and Mr. Segal as well as by members of the excellent supporting cast." He put it on his year-end unranked list of the best films of 1974.
Gene Siskel liked most of the film and awarded three out of four stars, but disliked the ending for "events too pat and a moral that's banal."