The Cincinnati Kid
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Steve McQueen brings his cool fire to the role of the Cincinnati Kid, a small-timer eager to take his chances in high-stakes poker. He gets his chance. Regal, ruthless Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), the elite gambler called the Man, accepts the Kid's challenge. Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck) directs this taut exploration of back-room gaming, building suspense with each turn of a card. And Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Rip Torn, National Board of Review Best Supporting Actress Award winner Joan Blondell and many more comprise a full house of talent. Grab a chair and ante up.
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In this Ring Lardner Jr./Terry Southern adaptation of Richard Jessup's novel that's set in the NRA years of FDR's first term, Eric 'The Kid' Stoner (McQueen) is a young card sharp who for some time has been gunning for Lancey 'The Man' Howard (Robinson). The older and widely-acknowledged poker king Howard is rumored to have been avoiding the Kid, that is until the day he steps off a train at the New Orleans station.
The two eventually meet in a game that neither knows has been fixed by Slade (Torn), a big-time gambler who seeks revenge against the Man for a recent humiliating $6K thrashing. Slade has blackmailed the highly reputable dealer 'Shooter' (Malden) into throwing the Kid an occasional hand, but the young man figures out what he's doing and puts a stop to it. He's gonna beat Howard fair and square or not at all.
Rip Torn, who in recent years is a burly comic character actor, appears here as young, lean and deadly serious. Except for that unmistakable voice, you can't see the man he grew into decades later. His angular face resembles a youthful Martin Landau's, but is topped with fair hair. They have the same piercing hawklike eyes.
Supporting players include Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Joan Blondell, Cab Calloway, Jack Weston, Jeff Corey and Dub Taylor.
This was Ring Lardner Jr.'s first acknowledged screenplay since his 1947 blacklisting as one of the Hollywood Ten.
Director Norman Jewison calls this his "ugly duckling" film, the one that allowed him to get beyond fluff comedies and work on more serious subjects.
Although it wasn't popular in its day, in recent years "The Kid" has gotten the recognition it deserves.
Spencer Tracy was to play Yancey Howard but had to give up the role due to ill health.
When original director Sam Peckinpah was fired for adding an early scene of a girl being massaged with a vibrátor, Sharon Tate was also replaced as Christian by Tuesday Weld.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band cameos with pianist/singer Emma Barrett.
The Cincinnati Kid is surrounded by poker playing characters and their women. The Shooter (Carl Malden) and his girl friend (Ann Margret) figure into the game, along with the Kid's girl (Tuesday Weld); the Pig, Yeller, and Lady Fingers (Joan Blondel) are also on the list.
The film is set in New Orleans and portrays life in the gambling circuits, including fighting roosters.
In the featurette, a poker playing card sharp is shown demonstrating both dealing from the bottom of the deck and cutting cards numerous times and ending up exactly where started. This man taught the actors involved in the actual card playing. This demo is highly educational.
Here is another example of a perfect role for the very talented McQueen. Here is also a chance to see screen greats Edward G. Robinson and Joan Blondell inthe twighlight of their careers. Both are perfect in their roles--Robinson as the heartless poker champion and Blondell as card dealer Lady Fingers.
McQueen is again teamed up with Karl Malden, Jack Weston, Tuesday Weld and director Norman Jewison. Sexy Ann-Margaret is at her sultry best. Here was the first time I saw a young and very good looking Rip Torn. This definitely is a great cast in a beautifully filmed period piece set in New Orleans.
The stakes are high and will "the kid" beat the aging king of poker?