The Cincinnanati Kid (1965 USA)

cincigray-cl1-jktcu“To be the man, you got to beat the man.” You can learn so much from this shameless audience pleaser. Like how to make the wrong move at the right time. Poker can be a fascinating ‘holy’ game, and it therefore makes a strong base for a film. How could this not be great entertainment? Particularly with the big guns Hollywood has on display here: Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret, Edward G Robinson, Rip Torn etc. Plus a soulfully tense theme song belted out by Ray Charles. Its a winning hand. You just gotta know how to hold em & fold em.

“The Kid” is Eric Stoner, (Steve McQueen) he is the up-and-coming new player in the stud poker world. He travels from game to game, usually with the help of his buddy Shooter (Karl Malden), only to clean out his competition in good form. When Lancey “The Man” Howard comes to town, the Kid and Shooter arrange a high-stakes poker game with some of the best players around to find out who the real king of stud poker is. Richard Jessup’s short novel, on which this movie was based, was a straight-up, no-frills look at a superb talent who has to accept that he is only second best. In expanding this story to movie length, scriptwriter Terry Southern comes up with a more heavy-handed morality play that seems to have little to say other than “making a living at gambling is a risky proposition.”

The-Cincinnati-Kid

The poker playing, of course, is hardly realistic. The winner of the big game at the end comes out on top by doing something no one in his right mind would dream of. This kind of play — betting big money when you’ve got nothing and your opponent clearly has you beat — is something rank amateurs might do, hoping that one final card will bail them out. And every once in a while, that one perfect card comes up. Good poker players rarely take a chance at “lucking out” however. Somewhere I read that at the heart of it, deep down in their souls, all hard core gamblers really want to lose…that they enjoy the pain and angst. Personally, I think that’s complete and utter bullshit. And bullshit can never be mistaken for wisdom.

But back to this flick. The cast and crew manage to pull off a difficult cinematic trick—make action around a stationary poker table interesting. So does Lancey (Edward G Robinson) have that jack of diamonds in the hole or not? If he does, the Kid (McQueen) may be finished. Those hard-eyed stares give away nothing, but I’m sweating just watching. Not all the action is around the 5-card stud contest. There’re a number of subplots, the best one being the struggle for Shooter’s (Malden) integrity, pitting his sense of right and wrong on one side against the lusciously devious Melba (Ann Margret) on the other. Early on there is some soap opera sequences that will try the viewer’s patience. A sequel where the McQueen character hunts down and kills those who cheated him would have just been…ace.

cincinatti kid

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Comments

  1. I’ll have to check out this McQueen flick! Excellent review, thanks for sharing! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for the kind words! It is one of the better plots he starred in. I ignored the romance stuff in the review. Female viewers may appreciate those a bit more than me…and Tuesday Weld is in it too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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