5/31/09

Tomb of Forgotten Film: The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

As I wisk myself off to the City that Care forgot, this week is going to be devoted to films that take place in New Orleans. All your favorite features will go on as normal thanks to the magic of computers (and my working way far ahead). In the meantime, don’t forget that this week I’ll be talking about my time in New Orleans including things to do, food to eat, and where some of these films were shot. So click on the link in the sidebar to check out I Got the Ways and Means: A New Orleans Travel-blog. 

Today’s film features one of my favorite actors of all time, and even though you wouldn’t know it from the title, it’s one of my favorite New Orleans films. I’ll cut the buildup short this time and get right to the heart of it with today’s selection from the Tomb of Forgotten Film…
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) starring Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Mauldin, Ann Margret, Rip Torn, and Tuesday Weld. Directed by Norman Jewison. 

In every city you go to there’s a top poker player, in New Orleans, that player is the Eric ‘The Kid” Stoner (McQueen). So when poker legend Lancie “The Man” Howard (Robinson) rolls into town a game in inevitable. First, the man rolls though Slade (Rip Torn), a poker player from the upper crust of New Orleans society. When Slade is cleaned out, he tries to get the dealer, Shooter (Karl Mauldin) to fix the game between “The Kid” and “The Man”, but when it comes game time; all their fates hang in the cards. 

The Bugg Picture

While poker is at the heart of this picture, character is what really drives it. While McQueen played more action-oriented roles, as “The Kid”, he really flexes his acting chops as the upstart player coming up against the established pro.  Playing against an  actor like Edward G. Robinson, who brings gravitas to the role of  Lancie “The Man” because of his legendary silver screen roles. McQueen makes the story about more than two generations of poker players. It becomes a battle between one of the coolest customers in ‘40’s cinema and the king of cool himself. 

As if this film didn’t have enough going for it in the cool department, it was almost directed by Sam Peckinpah, but after the producers canned him, he went on to make Major Dundee. Sam had intended to shoot the film in black and white,and unbeknownst to the producers intended to include some nude shots. They were outraged that Sam would try and make “a vulgar kind of picture”. Jewison was brought in to replace Peckinpah,  and the producers scrapped the footage along with actress Sharon Tate, replacing her with the more demure Tuesday Weld.  

Norman Jewison, what is there to say about this guy who directed The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, Rollerball, and In The Heat of the Night. Even if you don’t think you’ve seen one of his films, chances are you have. Norman eschewed Peckinpah’s notion to shoot in black and white. He is said to have felt that the poker game with it’s high contrast black, red, and white cards lost something without color. Muting the color palette, Jewison tries to create the feeling of the late 1940’s. Unfortunately, the costuming varies widely, McQueen’s character rocks a wardrobe that could have been the sixties or last week, but assuredly not the forties. There are a few other anachronisms including the diesel trains that “The Kid” ducks behind while escaping though a train yard.

While there are some slipups, it is easy in the post Pulp Fiction era we live in to chalk up the tiny discrepancies to that magical occurrence known as “movie time”, and like QT’s films, Cincinnati Kid relies on sharp, crisp dialog. Thankfully even beyond McQueen and Robinson we get some great performances.  Ann Margret does a wonderful and very sexy job as Melba,  Karl Mauldin’s philandering wife. There’s a scene where we are first introduced to her character, Melba, and she is cutting a piece of a jigsaw puzzle to make it fit. It’s a beautiful piece of character, and Margret captures the essence of the man eating woman child. 

As her put upon husband, veteran actor Karl Maulden, whose been in everything from Pollyanna to Argento‘s Cat o‘ Nine Tails, also puts in a stellar performance. Mauldin’s “Shooter” must contemplate whether to buckle under the strain or compromise his spotless 25-year reputation. Mauldin plays it all in posture, “Shooter” begins to look as if he has a massive weight on him. While McQueen is all easygoing luck, Maulden just can’t catch a break. 

 Rip Torn, who always makes a film better, makes an appearance here as the villainous Slade. It always completely throws me off what a baby face Torn has in the film he comes off like the New Orleans society ass he‘s supposed to be. You also get appearances from Joan Blondell, a siren of film noir, and her exchanges with Robinson are brilliant, Jack Weston who is emblazoned on my mind as the resort director in Dirty Dancing, and Mr. Hi-Di-Ho himself, Cab Calloway. As all these characters converge around the poker tables it becomes something of a prehistoric episode of Celebrity Poker Showdown, so I was none too surprised when I saw the disk had a commentary track from Dave Foley and Phil Gordon. 

The weakest performence came from Tuesday Weld., but I’m  not convinced it was all her fault. As “The Kid”s girlfriend, she seems to only crop up as a motivation for McQueen’s character, and never has any real personality. When you examine her performance versus the femme fatale embodied by Ann Margret, it becomes even more diminished. It’s too bad because it leaves the romantic subplot to a series of long scenes that go by without a real spark between the leads. 

I think its about time to end now with the beginning. As the film opens, we get a great title song done by the indomitable Ray Charles, and then the movie moves quickly into establishing the local with one of the classic New Orleans shorthand’s, the Jazz funeral. As we continue to explore these films set in the Crescent City, nearly every one will contain one of these things: a Jazz Funeral, Mardi Gras, a Voodoo Priest or Priestess, or a swinging Jazz Combo (which also applies here with an appearance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band). While the city doesn’t play a major role in the film (in the novel by Richard Jessup, the basis for the script, the setting was St. Louis), it does add a certain flavor to the proceeding that only New Orleans can bring. As for me, well I’ll be back tomorrow with another NOLA flick, in spirit at least, but my body is somewhere on Bourbon Streets sippin’ a hurricane or a Big Ass Beer and feeling just as cool as Steve McQueen. Later, folks. 

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. I remember this movie. Really great. I lover your site becasue the films are closer to my taste than most any other blog out there, and you are informative, not just giving your opinion but finding some facts and trivia as well.

    I have been off the blog radar and hope I am back on, and no better place to start than here.

    Steve McQueen is simply a legend.

    Bill

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  2. STEVE MCQUEEN! (((screams teenybopper scream)))Did you know Tuesday Weld was married to Dudley Moore for five years? I find it hard to imagine, for some reason.

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  3. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobMay 31, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    ann-margaret and tuesday weld were incredibly hot chicks back in the sixties.

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  4. Thanks for all the great comments today. I'm a big Steve McQueen lover and I'm glad to see other folks like his films as well.

    Bill, thanks for coming by. I hope to see you around these parts more, and thanks very much for all the kind words.

    Daisy, I did not know Mr. Moore and Ms. Weld were married for a time. It's hard to think of the man who played Arthur being able to do any better than Liza. LOL. Anyhow thanks very much for the comment.

    Snob, as always too the point. Ann Margaret is one of my favorite movie hotties, and in this film she's quite the redheaded devil, makes her stangely more attractive.

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