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The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

by on 2014/01/12

Cincinnati Kid (1965)

“What good is honour if you’re dead?”

* * * *

I enjoy that “tabletop” subset of sport films which includes The Hustler, Rounders, and Searching for Bobby Fischer. However, if I’m being completely honest, something else made me want to see director Norman Jewison’s Cincinnati Kid.

The Kids in the Hall, naturally. In their reimagined pseudo-sequel, Bruce McCulloch’s Cincinnati Kid heads north, and tries his luck against the Toronto Kid, who is neater, tidier, polite, and clad in local Jays and Leafs swag.

Once the opening credits began, I found many other reasons to continue, including a great cast, and a score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible). Players included Karl Malden (One-Eyed Jacks), Ann Margret, Edward G. Robinson (Double Indemnity), Rip Torn (Canadian Bacon), jazz legend Cab Calloway, and the embodiment of cool itself, Steve McQueen (The Great Escape, and The Magnificent Seven).

Set in New Orleans, the story concerns a successful local gambler (McQueen), who aspires to topple the national champion (Robinson). While it seems he can do little wrong in cards, he’s less gifted in his personal relationships.

There are several decorative wrinkles to the plot, but they don’t alter its simple, straightforward flow. Instead they suggest possible complications, and comparative points to the poker games. At times the narrative threatens to get predictable, but it’s over too quickly to bore.

In terms of the game itself, very little is done to explain what’s going on. If you’re not already familiar with the rules, you’ll need a bit of patience to get through. On one hand the dealers are constantly identifying values, suits, and hands but if you don’t know a straight from a flush, their words won’t mean very much. On the other hand, especially near the end, the script swings the opposite way, with onlookers explaining to each other aloud who is winning and who is not, as if for the hard-of-thinking.

By the end I’d forgotten the Kids in the Hall, and was thinking instead about Jewison, how parts of Cincinnati presaged some aspects of his later efforts: the protagonist’s confidence as in 1975’s Rollerball, as well as the audience’s bloodlust, and the showier production stylistics which would punctuate 1968’s Thomas Crown Affair.

After seeing this movie – and meaning no offense – I commented there was more depth and complexity to the gaming in a sequence of Casino Royale (2006) than there was in this entire story. The Cincinnati Kid features no gambits and no exploration of tells, though it doesn’t have an interesting “break” scene conversation.

Albeit one without defibrillation.

* * * *

Not Rated

102 minutes

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