The Cincinnati Kid Movie Review

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A fairly obvious attempt to make The Hustler of poker, with Steve McQueen playing the role of Fast Eddie (McQueen and Newman were rival screen heroes at the time). The Cincinnati Kid artistically falls just short of that standard -- the characters are not as fully developed as in The Hustler -- but it's just as much fun, and one of McQueen's best films.

McQueen is the Kid, a young card player who believes he is the best in the country. Edward G. Robinson is the Man, the aging veteran that McQueen must knock off his pedestal. McQueen is cocky, confident, appealing, and fundamentally decent; Robinson is complex and opaque, with one of the greatest poker faces in cinema. The inevitable showdown between the two is a battle of wills and nerve which lasts a night, most of the next day and another night.

Almost half of the movie is taken up by the game itself, and it's the best half -- tense and exciting, with a classic (though very improbable) finish. Away from the card table, the film is only slightly less successful. Rip Torn plays a rich gangster who tries to blackmail the dealer (Malden) into fixing the game for the Kid. Meanwhile, the Kid also has to juggle the attentions of sixties archetypal pinups Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld. (Predictably, winner takes all and the loser gets nothing.)

Among a cast loaded with talent, McQueen and Robinson are excellent. Joan Blondell is good in a bit part as a has-been player who needles Robinson. The often-underutilized Weld can't do much with her wholesome character, but Torn and Ann-Margret get scenery to chew as the bad influences that try to drag the Kid down. The morality play is routine and the moral is familiar: someone has to fall, and fall hard. Screenwriters Ring Lardner and Terry Southern add snappy dialogue as expected, but the subplots are secondary to the action at the green felt table.

As a bonus, the film ably exploits New Orleans settings, from the opening jazz funeral to the blues band that briefly diverts the Kid as he kills time in the Quarter. (As a finishing piece de resistance to this period piece, Ray Charles sings the theme song.)

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The Cincinnati Kid Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1965

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