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A Movie A Day: THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Making the wrong move at the right time

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Let it be known, if there was ever any doubt, that Steve McQueen has a great poker face. Those pale blue eyes don’t waver and feel like they’re dissecting your every movement. Who could possibly sit across from McQueen at a 5 card stud table without flinching?

Well, in this case it’s Edward G. Robinson and it’s a damn good thing, too, because there aren’t many people who could out-badass Steve McQueen. Although, I will say this is the era for it. If McQueen existed today as he did in the ‘60s and ‘70s he’d have free run… Maybe a Russell Crowe could stand up to him. Maybe. Back in the day, there were tons of people who could match McQueen. His MAGNIFICENT SEVEN co-stars Yul Brenner and Charles Bronson, for sure. Robert Shaw could have dished it back. Paul Newman might have to grow into it a bit… But you got Brando, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood… Kinda missing these days, huh? Essentially, Robinson is “The Man,” the top dog of poker, the most respected and rich man in the game. McQueen is the titular character, the up and coming superstar. He has beaten the best of the best in Chicago, New York, all the big cities and is currently finishing up his run in New Orleans. I’ve actually hit a lot of New Orleans films recently… from AMADs like this one and PANIC IN THE STREETS to recently catching BENJAMIN BUTTON. Weird how those threads show up every once in a while. Anyway, McQueen is known as the best player in town, every big poker player in the area owing him money. McQueen is almost there. He’s proven himself in every possible way but one. He has to take down Lancey Howard (Robinson). When Robinson makes it down his way, McQueen pulls some favors to make sure he’s in on the big cash game. There’s a subplot about a Richie Rich type (an incredibly young and thin Rip Torn) who wants to knock Robinson down a peg or two after getting taken for a few grand. Through threats (very real threats) he convinces the movie’s nice-guy, played by Karl Malden, to fix the game so McQueen not just beats Robinson, but clears him out. It’s an interesting subplot, mostly for Malden’s conflict. He’s a very honest guy, but he’s put in a situation that is almost impossible. His wife is a rather large bitch, but a very beautiful one… it’s Ann-Margret, so of course she’s got it in the looks department, but damn is she cold here. And a cheat. She cheats at everything in her life, from fun and games to her own marriage.

When we’re introduced to her Malden is giving her a lecture on cheating. She’s cutting corners off of puzzle pieces, making them fit to whatver shape she needs to fill it out. It’s not even an option for her to do it the legit way and it makes no difference that the outcome is a huge mess. You can say the same thing about her relationship. She spends the movie doing her damndest to bed McQueen, Malden’s best friend.

So, it is pretty ironic that Malden buckles under Rip Torn’s threats and is willing to cheat when it really, really counts. You can see his point of view, though. His wife is a slut, he owes over $12k in IOUs to this rich guy, with plenty of muscle to back him up if he should call in all the markers at once, and has hit rock bottom. This cheat represents a clean slate for him. But we know McQueen is such a badass that he doesn’t need the help and when the big finale comes up and McQueen smells something is up he reacts just as I expected him to. There’s no honor in this for him if he wins by cheating. It’s not about the money. Money is just a tool, a pawn in this game of wits between McQueen and Robinson. There are other people in on the game… badass people, too. Karl Malden’s in at the beginning, Jack Weston is in and, baddest of them all, Cab Calloway as a character called Yeller. I have to accept this movie as a work of fiction because no matter how badass Robinson and McQueen are, in real life Cab Calloway out-cools them a thousand to one. But in this fictionalized reality, the game is only between McQueen and Robinson. What I really loved about the movie was its simplicity. There are layers, of course… a romantic layer between McQueen and Tuesday Weld, one of the absolute hottest women to ever, ever appear onscreen, there’s the cheating layer, there’s the Ann-Margret seduction layer… But McQueen’s Cincinnati Kid is a simple character. He’s the best, he knows he’s the best and goddamnit he’s going to prove it.

There isn’t a long series of games that all culminate in one big game, like in MAVERICK (which I love) or ROUNDERS (which I also love). We get a few games with McQueen, a game with Robinson, but the second half of the movie is, essentially, in one room as the big game unfolds. And the ending… I won’t give it away, but damn I love it when movies do what this movie did. Norman Jewison’s direction is predictably great. He finds some great New Orleans faces as McQueen wanders the city, most notably in a Jazz Bar where an angelic voice comes out of a life-worn old lady with few teeth in her mouth, but those that are left jut out in a very bizarre way. The cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop (POINT BLANK) is the perfect combination of gritty and gorgeous, I’d bet still utilizing the great IB Technicolor process. Lalo Schifrin’s score is jazzy and upbeat. In short, this is one of those movies that feels effortless. I wouldn’t call it a perfect 10 movie, but it’s exactly what it should have been, what it intended to be and is a prime example of confidence of filmmaking. The film is assured and that counts for a whole lot. Final Thoughts: I’m a big poker nut. I don’t claim to be a brilliant player… in fact, I’m pretty bad at playing high stakes games, but I found I’m good at my local cash game and not too bad in the few local tournaments I’ve entered… That’s all to say that this movie was right up my alley from the first frame. I love poker, I love watching the dramatics of the game. I’m not so big on five card stud, but that doesn’t matter. The drama is the same. Seeing Robinson, Calloway, Malden, Torn and McQueen getting to play in the same sandbox is worth a watch alone, but add on top of that a truly fun and well-made flick and you get a guaranteed good time.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Friday, December 5th: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961)

Saturday, December 6th: MIKEY & NICKY (1976)

Sunday, December 7th: TWO MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Monday, December 8th: THE SENTINEL (1976)

Tuesday, December 9th: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)

Wednesday, December 10th: WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965)

Thursday, December 11th: BEING THERE (1979)

Wow, that’s a biggie. It’s about time I start plugging my bigger Hal Ashby holes. Tomorrow we follow Ann-Margret one more time, hitting Frank Capra’s 1961 dramedy POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, her first film. See you folks tomorrow for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 5, 2008, 5:29 a.m. CST

    Room 101

    by Shan

    Steve McQueen - left far too early. Along with Paul Newman, sadly missed.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 5:34 a.m. CST


    by Shan

    Unless I missed it, will Norman Jewison's Rollerball ever be featured. I just thought it was remarkable how a film made in 1975 for a fraction of the cost could be so much better than the remake that came later and look like more money was spent on it to boot. <p> Also, I found the message of the original (at least in my opinion) was that no matter how total the control of the state is, there will always be spontaneous acts of rebellion, such as from James Caan's character. Even if straight after the last scene of the film, he was crushed, the fact is - it still happened no matter how total the control of the corporations militarily, economically and even what people see and can find out.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 6:21 a.m. CST

    Cool flick

    by Edward Brock

    I watched this one a few years ago and when I found out it was getting featured here, I went back to digg a bit more info about it. Apparently Peckinpah (who else...) was going to direct this but got into a conflict with the suits about showing some onscreen nudity and got replaced just as they were about to start shooting. According to some posters in IMDb, they also changed the ending... the original one sounds more interesting and suited the tone of the film better, IMO.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 6:34 a.m. CST

    Being There

    by Taklamakan

    one of my absolute favorites.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 6:49 a.m. CST

    Great movie.

    by Motoko Kusanagi

    Watched it for the first time many years ago in the early 90s and keep returning to it.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    Daniel Craig in Casino Royale = McQueen in Cincinatti Kid

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 8:36 a.m. CST

    Quint, your the first part of your review

    by Manos

    made me sad...the part about how McQueen would have a free run today in the 'badassery' department. I grew up in the era of McQueen, Brando, Wayne, Sinatra and so many others. Television was rich as well, with the Rat Pack, comedians such as Red Skelton, Don Rickles, Tim Conway, etc. I saw a documentary on Don Rickles a while back - I think it was either Showtime or HBO, and all I could think about was: that era is gone forever. Maybe its because I turned 50 last year. Maybe I'm jaded, but it seems to me that the entertainment industry is, well, paler these days. There are great directors and fine actors working today, but for sheer charisma and personality, no one holds a candle to stars of McQueen's era. They are gone, and we will never see their like again.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 9:41 a.m. CST

    Just Saw It With Jewison Commentary

    by Aquatarkusman

    Great opening New Orleans funeral scene, wonderful performance by Edward G. Robinson, especially where he reunites with Joan "Ladyfingers" Blondell (they had done a number of movies together in the 30s and 40s). In many ways, the Kid (McQueen) is the 10th most interesting character in the flick, which is saying something.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 10:08 a.m. CST

    Daniel Craig

    by pilotgrl

    I agree with Nasty. I re-watched Casino Royale last night and McQueen immediately sprang to mind. His brutal cool and those eyes just evoke McQueen for me. I think Craig would have been a good opponent, although their looks may be just too similar to each other. This one's going on my Netflix list, too.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 11:34 a.m. CST

    McQueen is looking rather "Craig-y" in the cover art!

    by Yotz Von Frelnik

    Seriously, that's almost the same general pose and setting as the shot of Daniel Craig in Casino, sitting at the card table reaching toward his pistol. Neat.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 1:03 p.m. CST


    by greigy just wanted to say

    Heretic...... next you'll be saying you've not seen Two for The Road.. by the by... Ann Margaret... smoking hot in Made in Paris.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 1:05 p.m. CST

    Can I submit that Gary Oldman...

    by The Eskimo

    ...could pull off a character sitting across from McQueen

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 2:05 p.m. CST

    "The Train"

    by Raymond Shaw

    This is out of place but I just saw "The Train" -- and it was a very good film. But people who like this film might wan't to check out "La Bataille du Rail" by Rene Clement. It is a fiction film with a strong documentary feel about the French resistance sabotaging the rail sytem. It was made shortly after WW2 and uses a lot of non-professional actors. It makes a good double-bill with "The Train"

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 3:32 p.m. CST

    You're good kid...real good...

    by Circean6

    Great & highly underrated poker movie..

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 4:57 p.m. CST


    by Continentalop

    Nice to see a fellow Rollerball fan. I second his suggestion, QUint, if you haven't seen it yet.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 6:04 p.m. CST

    Being There

    by jbs0209

    I am thrilled Being There is on the upcoming list.<p> Truely an amazing film.<p> I lost any faith in the Acadamy awards when Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor over Sellers for, get this, Kramer vs Kramer. Who gives a F' about that movie now-a-days?<p> Being There is one of the best films of all time.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:56 p.m. CST

    AMAD rules

    by crazybubba

    lots of movies i would never have bothered to watch, but enjoy when i do.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 11:19 p.m. CST

    The Ending

    by Tar Heel

    When I saw the headline for today's AMAD, I immediately flashed to my recollection of the ending of the film. I'm afraid today, studio test screenings would force the director to change it.

  • Dec. 6, 2008, 5:48 a.m. CST


    by Quint

    Rollerball has been a staple for me since my teen years. I have missed much classic film, but I've at least seen Rollerball. JONATHAN! JONATHAN!

  • Dec. 8, 2008, 8:19 a.m. CST

    BEING THERE is a great flick, One caution...

    by Red Dawn Don

    BEING THERE is a great flick, One caution... that I have. I saw it on vhs and the movie was diminished when after the films ending they went right into the bloopers reel (in the credits?). It lessened the previous 2 hours of movie magic. I wonder if they do so on the DVD.