The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

The Cincinnati Kid, Norman Jewison.  What should have been a vehicle for Steve McQueen is amplified then validated with a soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin (including vocal by Ray Charles) and a Terry Southern co-credited screenplay (he wrote and orchestrated most of the critical card-game sequences), shot on location in New Orleans . The three-act script is strictly by the book, the characters cardboard, but the acting shows what Hollywood used to be capable of even with modest effort. McQueen got the top billing but in a cast of A-list character actors (Rip Torn, Karl Malden, Joan Blondell), the pretty boy is largely over-shadowed. Ann-Margret hots things up as a juicy femme fatale. Her curves dominate her scenes—like she stepped out of a Russ Meyer picture. A fresh faced Tuesday Weld is mostly memorable for her improbable name (too bad Sharon Tate lost the part). But it’s seasoned veteran Edward G. Robinson that makes the movie. The man can strike fear and inspire awe with little more than a lit match and an eye-brow roll. Old and pot-bellied, he sports an immaculate Van Dyke and the razor sharp manners to match. (In his autobiography, Robinson says ‘It was one of the best performances I ever gave … it was symbolically the playing out of my whole gamble with life’.) The lack of a happy ending beyond a perfunctory hug is vintage silver screen—pessimism used to be ok. Pop culture bonus: extended Cab Calloway cameo as gambler ‘Yeller’.

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