Cincinnati Kid, The (1965)

The Cincinnati Kid (1965), directed by Norman Jewison.

In Depression era New Orleans, professional gambler The Kid (Steve McQueen) has a shot at The Man (Edward G. Robinson), a long time poker champion known for "gutting" his opponents. It's a big event and the whole country is laying bets on the outcome. The Kid also has to cope with his girl (Tuesday Weld), the attentions of his best friend's wife, and a tough rich guy (Rip Torn) who wants to meddle with the game.

The marathon multi-day poker game is pretty exciting and the climactic moment a knockout.

I'd never seen this before and I think it holds up pretty well. I don't find gambling particularly fascinating but had no trouble sticking with it. It's like being inside the tribe of professional gamblers; amateurs sometimes mix with them but never know the score. It begins with the grimy Depression rail-yards and warehouses, becoming more interior and hotel-bound as the big game develops.

Fine cast. Steve McQueen is, as always, laconic and lethally cool. Edward G. Robinson has one of his better roles as The Man, courtly but with a reptilian intensity. I think Ann-Margret was the first woman I heard described as a "sex kitten". A kitten with claws: she's excited by blood at the cock fight. She also cheats at jigsaw puzzles, which shows a deep commitment to cheating.

In a sweet bit The Kid visits his girl's sour parents on the farm and charms them with simple card tricks.

The director insisted on using real money in the games; the actors treat it differently.

Sam Peckinpah was the original director but was fired after two weeks, arguing with the producer over a nude scene. Jewison also argued with the studio; in particular the final reunion moment was tacked on at their insistence. Peckinpah was filming in b&w (for a movie about cards?) so none of his shots made it into the film. No nude scenes.

Lalo Schifrin score.

Available on Blu-ray from Classicflix, but not from Netflix. It's a rather good image for a budget catalog title. The director has a commentary track.