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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) November 13, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Great films aren’t the only films to age well. Even some inferior titles can look much better after passage of time. This is probably due to inferior films of the past looking much better in comparison with inferior films of today. One of the films to benefit from this phenomenon is THE CINCINNATI KID, 1965 drama directed by Norman Jewison.

The plot of the film is set in 1930s New Orleans. The protagonist is Eric Stoner a.k.a. Cincinnati Kid (played by Steve McQueen), young professional gambler who happens to be the best stud poker player in town and, perhaps, a whole country. The prestigious title of “The Man” is, however, held by much older and more experienced Lancey Howard (played by Edward G. Robinson). Lancey comes to New Orleans and displays his formidable skills by humiliating local aristocrat Mr. Slade (played by Rip Torn). When Eric challenges Lancey, Slade is more than willing to help in order to avenge his own humiliation. This help will include giving few “friendly” suggestions to Shooter (played by Karl Malden), Eric’s old friend who happens to deal cards at professional games.

If made today, THE CINCINNATI KID would be gutted by critics for its slow pace, poor characterisation, unnecessary romantic subplots and almost laughable lack of subtlety in certain “symbolic” scenes. The film is, however, very good in its final scenes that depict seemingly prosaic spectacle of poker game as the contest of epic proportions. This could be attributed to editing skill of Hal Ashby, as well as Steve McQueen – embodiment of “coolness” whose screen personality looks like it was invented for these sort of films. The rest of the cast, which includes veterans like Joan Blondell and Cab Calloway, as well as reliable character actors like Jack Weston, is also impressive. This includes Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld in thankless roles of Bad Girl and Good Girl stereotypes. Rip Torn is particularly effective in the role of menacing Southern gentleman who doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer. Lalo Schiffrin delivers musical theme to this film, which is only a shadow of its future triumphs, but it nevertheless works in the context of THE CINCINNATI KID.

This is hardly the best film of its time or Steve McQueen’ career, but it nevertheless could be recommended as an example of Hollywood in its past and now almost unfathomable glory.

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