How the hell did you know I didn't have the king or the ace?
I recollect a young man putting the same question to Eddie the Dude. "Son," Eddie told him, "all you paid was the looking price. Lessons are extra."
Forget about everything else you may have heard, as sexy as Ann-Margaret may be in this movie, The Cincinnati Kid is a film about Steve McQueen versus Edward G. Robinson in stud poker. There are a few sequences at the beginning of the film setting up the game and the people who will have some stake in the outcome (the scheming Rip Torn; the in-over-his-head Karl Malden; his wife, the aforementioned saucy Ann-Margaret; the oh-so-innocent Tuesday Weld), but the centerpiece of the movie is the marathon card game between two masters. And it is in this game that the film excells, drawing the viewer deep into the drama and tension of the affair.
McQueen's character Eric Stoner (the titular Cincinnati Kid), while on the surface not very different from his stock 'cool' screen persona, actually tends to show more vulnerability in this film, ironically by being as cold as he possibly can. However, one can often see the character's true emotion underneath his polished exterior, something which, at times, the other characters can pick up on (Weld in particular gets to react to one such moment). Edward G. Robinson plays his foil, the prim Lancey Howard, "The Man" himself. Unlike many films of a similar genre (The Hustler, for example), Stoner shows nothing but respect for The Man, a fact which strengthens the impact of the finale of the movie. Malden's Shooter is also an interesting character, one whose entire life - his profession, his marriage - is almost literally built on a house of cards. And Joan Blondell deserves special mention as Shooter's relief dealer Ladyfingers, who adds a fresh voice to the proceedings.
Norman Jewison's direction is fine during the set-up, but really crackles during the poker scenes, as does the Hal Ashby's montage. The climactic revelation is one of those moments that you don't see in films anymore, but it is very effective and beautifully put together. And the film is scored by Lalo Schifrin, with a fitting title song performed by the great Ray Charles, so that area of production value is assured. While the film does deal with professional poker players, the ambience is not as seedy as most films of the genre; what we're dealing with here are not the people struggling for a cashout. This is the crème de la crème, men whose skill is so high the betting takes on a mythic quality. Is it terribly realistic? No, the final (next to impossible) hand proves that. But it is poetic without being poetic, if you take my meaning.
If nothing else, it does showcase some prime poker.
Yoinked from suitboyskin:
|You Are Most Like John F. Kennedy|
You live a fairy tale life that most people envy.
And while you may have a few dark secrets, few people know them.