Monday, April 18, 2011

#105: Cincinatti Kid

Just for the fact that Norman Jewison directed And Justice for All, I will pick up any movie that credits him as a director. And just for the fact that Steve McQueen did what he did in The Great Escape, I will pick up anything that credits him as an actor. Now imagine Steve McQueen directed by Norman Jewison- so even as I picked up the DVD without checking Imdb, the expectations were higher than any bar Sergei Bubka would've surpassed in his lifetime.

An upcoming poker play Eric Stoner (McQueen) gets to take a shot at poker legend Lancey Howard, played by the ever-reliable Edward G. Robinson. Both men with reputations in the poker room get together with a bunch of friends and well-wishers for the duel. As time passes by, people start falling asleep but the two men are engaged in a fight to the finish. Karl Malden, the dealer, has a vested interest in McQueen's victory but is he going to help him ? Cincinatti Kid is an incredible story of two men, so passionate and so skillful, they will make you forget everything else as this absorbing tussle unfolds in a closed room.

A basic ingredient that goes into any good sports movie is that how realistic the filmmakers have brought the game on-screen to the actual sport. In the Cincinatti Kid, the action and the players seem to have been carved out of a real poker championship. As the tension builds towards a riveting climax, both McQueen and Robinson not just elevate their performances as players in a poker game but also as actors adept at their craft. This is as cat-and-mouse a game can get and the fun lies in the fact that there is no permanent cat between the two. Apart from the three men, there are also memorable roles for Ann Margaret, Tuesday Weld and Joan Blondell- the latter playing a character called Lady Fingers. In a DVD extra there is actual footage of Joan learning how to deal the cards from a magician- all this put to good use in her scenes as a dealer. If you like Steve McQueen, the Cincinatti Kid is a must-watch. His steely resolve is a strong opponent to the calm nerves of Edward G. Robinson. But if you do watch the Cincinatti Kid, there is no way you will not become a fan of Edward G. Robinson, for the movie derives it's spark from the cold and calculating responses of Lancey Howard.

The movie is setup with nuggets of information of Howard's mastery over poker and then it revolves around him and his aura. Much before Howard faces Stoner, he is supposed to face-off against Slade, a rich poker addict who fancies his chances against the master. On the eve of the match, both men are in their respective environs. Slade is brooding over the fate of his game the next morning and as his wife moves a hand over his chest, he removes her hand. He is too occupied to think of anything else. Howard, on the hand, is seen dipping into a soup in a restaurant and asking for some more Tabasco.

It is such fabulous character exposition that makes the Cincinatti Kid an eminently watchable classic. Just play along with this one. For the match is well worth it !

Rating: 7.4/10

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