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The Cincinnati Kid DVD
Hey, guess what! Your November 2007 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: A RAMBLING - GAMBLING MAN ... ! !

Preshow Entertainment: Old SNL skits, old commercials

Steve McQueen plays stud with five cards and two women in THE CINCINNATI KID

The evening began with sketches and pieces from Eddie Murphy's early appearances on Saturday Night Live. Eddie came out with both barrels a-blazing, a fresh and new aggressive force that blew people in 1982 away. Up first (I believe it was the opening skit from the premiere episode with the "new" cast) was THE LITTLE RICHARD SIMMONS SHOW, an exercise program with Eddie as Little Richard/Richard Simmons. Also on the bill, the "Kill My Landlord" skit featuring a dig at "In The Belly of the Beast"-era Norman Mailer, and my favorite (and Eddie's first-ever featured bit), Eddie on Weekend Update as Raheem Abdul Mohammed, a militant critic embittered by the fact that there are no brothers in the movies. "You got some great actors...take Isaac Hayes, who proved he can act in TRUCK TURNER..." Wow. It still kills me, though I think I liked it more than other RMCers in attendance. Non-Eddie fare included the sly parody of THE BIRDS as if done by Brian DePalma, called THE CLAMS.

We also watched some old commercials, the highlight for me being the Rice Krispies opera ("No more Rice Krispies! We ran out of Rice Krispies!"), a childhood chestnut.


Karate, Sundance, Cisco & Frisco, Heartbreak, Coca-Cola and Heavenly. Hollywood sure has given birth to many kids. But one, who I'm guessing is from Ohio, turned out to be a pretty great poker player.

Steve McQueen is Eric, or Kid, or The Kid, or Cincinnati, depending on who's addressing him. He's cocky and arrogant yet cool and self-assured, all the things a great stud poker player is meant to be. And probably all the things McQueen was.

Edward G. Robinson as Lancey Howard
When he learns that aging and unbeatable poker legend Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson, making his entrance through the steam of a train) is in New Orleans, The Kid is eager to play him. He knows that when (if, really) he wins, he takes the old man's crown. And The Kid just may have the skill to do so if he can only get past some distractions in his way.

One such distraction is Slade (Rip Torn, totally unrecognizable from today's Rip Torn), a man who was beaten and humiliated by Lancey. Slade wants revenge. He wants Lancey taken down. So he needs The Kid to win, even if he has to fix the game.

Tuesday Weld and Ann-Margret
And then there's the women. Isn't it enough that you're a world class poker player? Must you also hump Tuesday Weld and Ann-Margret? At the same time??? (NOTE: Not "at the same time" as in a threesome, "at the same time" as in behind each other's backs). And do so in a cold and uncaring manner? Man, I hate you.

Sorry, I, uhh, went away for a second there.

Christian (Tuesday Weld) and The Kid (Steve McQueen)
You know The Kid is serious about poker when he ignores his gal Christian (Tuesday Weld) to the point that she leaves him. This tells you all you need to know about him. There's an amusing scene at Christian's home (she actually is a farmer's daughter). The Kid pops in unexpectedly for a visit, thrilling her, but not her parents. No, not at all. They obviously don't see the appeal of an arrogant poker player 15 years her senior banging their daughter. But all The Kid has to do is show Dad a silly card trick and presto, Dad's on board, giggling like a child. Mom, however? Not so amused.

The Kid's also romanced by Melba (Ann-Margret), the wife of card dealer and friend Shooter (Karl Malden). Melba files jigsaw pieces so they fit the puzzle (this helps us with one of the movie's themes - honesty). When she makes her move on The Kid, he not only fends her off but does so in an insulting manner. I guess you have to be cruel to be kind. Or at least to play poker.

At one point, Shooter asks The Kid to take Melba to the fights. He does, and it is here that we witness a cockfight scene so brutal I'm surprised PETA isn't picketing Netflix distribution centers. But it's there as a metaphor - the final contest between The Kid and Lancey is more than a card game. It's a cockfight. And I invite you to choose any definition of "cockfight" you come up with.

The Kid sweats it out
And naturally, it all leads to the big game. After a bunch of players (including Cab Calloway and Jack Weston, my favorite screen couple) exit the game, it's down to Lancey and the Kid. The movie is all about this game. Heck, Lancey's and The Kid's lives are all about this game too. With Lancey calm and aware, and The Kid cocky and cool, they play it until one wins and the other loses. But who? Can The Kid kill the King? I mean, what are his chances? Especially when the first shot of the movie is The Kid walking through a funeral. Sometimes the turn of a single card will change your life.

Sadly, the movie won't change yours. While surely TCK is a well made film, it seems to meander here and lose its focus there. But the acting is top drawer, including Joan Blondell as the alternate dealer known as Lady Fingers. And this movie made without McQueen? I can't even imagine it. He's a complicated character. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Both. He's a flawed guy.

There's something wacky going on in this movie. It smells like Depression-era New Orleans (in fact, they go out of their way to make New Orleans important), yet people sometimes look or speak like hipster-Sixties. Like I said, wacky. I'm still not sure what year this was supposed to take place in.

The Kid in action
On another level, THE CINCINNATI KID is a Western, almost. First, there's the title. Then there's the hint of Western music playing on the soundtrack. There's also poker, a staple of the old west (and what got quite a few people killed, right Mr. Hickok?). And the ending is a pure showdown. The clock might as well have read high noon.

And speaking of Westerns, it's something to imagine how Samuel Peckinpah (sounds like the cockfight - peck 'n paw) would have directed it. He was the original helmer (they even had footage in the can), but due to artistic differences (one was shooting a card game featuring red hearts and diamonds in black and white), he was let go. And in stepped Norman ("I'm not a Jew! I'm a goy!") Jewison. This was the picture that elevated Jewison from Happy Soap rom-coms to more credible fare like THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, A SOLDIER'S STORY, MOONSTRUCK and 5 star musicals FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This was an important picture for him.

Way back in May of 2005, the Random Movie Generator selected Robert Rossen's
THE HUSTLER. I am not the first nor will I be the last to say that THE CINCINNATI KID is THE HUSTLER's kid brother. They even begin with identical scenes of the card/pool player hustling. And is that a tip of the visor when The Kid walks into a pool hall and a player named Eddie asks him to play? The difference for me is THE HUSTLER showed a man's descent whereas THE CINCINNATI KID seemed to stay on one level.

So if you're looking for plot, go elsewhere. If it's a great character piece you're after, watch THE CINCINNATI KID. Just don't bet against him.

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