Cincinnati Kid, The (1965): Starring Steve McQueen in One of his Most Popular and Iconic Performances

In Norman Jewison’s two-generational adventure, “The Cincinatti Kid,” Steve McQueen, perhaps stimulated by the poker game and the company of vet actor Edward G. Robinson, gives one of his most popular and iconic performances.

This movie, scripted by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern in a way that fits McQueen’s specialized skills, followed the star’s popular vehicles of the 1960s, such as “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) and “The Great Escape” (1963), both made by John Sturges, who might have been the first major director to see his potential as an actor and icon. (Sturges also directed McQueen in the 1959 “Never So Few,” which is also in this DVD collection).

McQueen plays an up-and-coming poker player, the new kid in the block–New Orleans–who’s hustling small-time players.  About to go to Miami, he meets Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson, in top form), a vet considered to be “the King of Poker,” who’s visiting town for a private game, but is also looking for new competition, action and fun.

Unabashedly, the Kid decides to try his luck and take on the arrogant, long-time master of the game. Not only is there a small fortune at stake, but also the status of being the top player. But the game is compromised when the trusted dealer is blackmailed into fixing the outcome.

Despite his cool demeanor, the Kid is basically an honest, straight-laced lad, and once he realizes the wheeling and dealings of Shooter (Karl Malden), who had arranged for the games, he decides to win the old-fashioned way—in fairness.

The yarn builds up to a stirring climax, a nicely photographed and tensely edited marathon card game, courtesy of Hal Ashby, who began his career as a cutter before moving into direction.

Old-timer Joan Blondell, as a blowsy blonde dealer, shows a “natural” evolution of her screen appearances in Warner’s 1930s musicals and 1940s melodramas.

At the time, the movie was compared to the Paul Newman 1961 superb b/w vehicle, “The Hustler,” a tough movie about pool.  McQueen made an appearance in one of Newman’s early successes, “Somebody Up There Like Me,” and the two finally teamed together on the blockbuster, “The Towering Inferno” in 1974).

The film is functionally directed by Norman Jewison, who replaced Sam Peckinpah at the very last moment.  Its commercial success enabled Jewison to make better films,  “In the Heat of the Night,” “Moonstruck,” “The Hurricane.”

Two young and beautiful actresses, Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld, offer the romantic angle.  Ann-Margret is red-haired Melba, Karl Malden’s wild wife, and Weld is blond-haired Christian, the Kid’s girlfriend.

When the Kid’s girl Christian visits her parents, Melba tries to seduce him, even though she and Christian are close friends. Out of respect for Shooter, he rebuffs her, and spends the day before the game with Christian at her family’s farm.

The movie begins and ends with encounters between the Kid and a black shoeshine boy, who challenges him to a penny pitch on the street.  In the early scene, he wins, telling the boy, “you ain’t just ready for me,” but in the end he loses to boy.

Jewison wanted to end the picture with a freeze-frame on McQueen’s face (a la French New Wave) after his penny-pitching loss, but he was overruled by the producers, who instead wanted the Kid to reunite with Christian.

Considered to be one of the best poker movies, “The Cincinnati Kid” is poised to find a whole new audience due to the soaring popularity of poker today. With more than 50 million poker players in America and five cable networks airing various poker tournaments throughout the year, poker has become Americas newest pastime and continues to attract new players everyday.

(It’s too bad that Curtis Hanson’s record of this game’s rising popularity, in his 2007 film starring Eric Benna and Drew Barrymore, was such an artistic disappointment).

Online poker has become the fastest-growing segment of the Internet gaming industry. More than $190 million is bet in online poker games every day and the number of active online players has grown from about 80,000 to over 2 million in just a few years.

“The Cincinnati Kid” Is Part of The Essential Steve McQueen Collection. The other five films included are Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, Never So Few, and Tom Horn.

DVD Special Features include

Commentary by director Norman Jewison

Scene specific commentary with David Foley and Phil Gordon, the hosts of Bravos Celebrity Poker Showdown

Archival featurette The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle

Trailer

Cast:

The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen)
Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson)
Shooter (Karl Malden)
Melba (Ann-Margret)
Christian (Tuesday Weld)
Lady Fiungers (Joan Blondell)
Slade (Rip Torn)
Pig (Jack Weston)
Yeller (Cab Calloway)
Hoban (Jeff Corey)

Credits:

Produced by Martin Ransohoff
Directed by Norman Jewison
Screenplay: Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern, based on the novel by Richard Jessup
Camera: Philip Lathrop
Editor: Hal Ashby
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Art direction: George W. Davis, Edward Carfagno
Costumes: Donfeld

Running time: 102

McQueen: The Actor and Movie Star

Once quoted as saying, “I live for myself and I answer to nobody,” McQueen represented a new type of movie star, one who played by his own rules and lived by his own moral code. McQueen’s unforgettable charm and powerful screen presence made him a legendary leading man and one of Hollywoods biggest box-office draws in the 1960s and 1970s. The public loved the breakneck speed with which he drove motorcycles and fast cars and the way he did his own stunts.

McQueen first began acting in 1952, when he enrolled at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. After making an impression in some small off-Broadway productions, McQueen was accepted into the Actors Studio and in 1956. He made his film debut with a bit part in “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” alongside Paul Newman.

Two years later, McQueen scored his first starring film role in the sci-fi cult film The Blob, but it was his role in the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive that brought him to stardom. McQueen soon became one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men and starred in a long string of box-office successes, which included, in addition to the titles in the Collection, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Thomas Crown Affair.

In 1968, McQueen was nominated for an Oscar Award for his portrayal of a cynical sailor in The Sand Pebbles.

During the next decade, McQueen starred in numerous films, achieving varying degrees of commercial success. But after 1978, McQueen appeared in only two more films before taking ill with an aggressive form of lung cancer.

He died of a heart attack at the age in 1980, at the young age of 50, shortly after undergoing lung surgery.