The film follows the story of a young poker player who comes to 30s New Orleans to face the best player of the country, the one known as "the Man". The Man has been the master of the game for many years now, so our "hero" thinks it is time for him to take his place. And he believes he can make it without the "help" a gangster offers.
Steve McQueen ... The Cincinnati Kid
Edward G. Robinson ... Lancey Howard
Ann-Margret ... Melba
Karl Malden ... Shooter
Tuesday Weld ... Christian
Joan Blondell ... Lady Fingers
Rip Torn ... Slade
Director: Norman Jewison /Sam Peckinpah (Fired)
XVid / MP3
Edward G. Robinson as Lancey Howard has been King of the Poker Players for a good long time. But as that eminent American philosopher Ric Flair says, "to be the man, you got to beat the man." And there's a kid from Cincinnati played by Steve McQueen who thinks he can do it.
McQueen's up for a fair and square game, but Robinson's developed a bad enemy in Rip Torn. Torn is this rich hotshot who thinks he's good, but he gets in a game with Robinson who guts Torn good and proper. No markers for Torn, he's rich enough to write out a check and pay it up front. But Torn's looking to get even and he ain't too squeamish about what he has to do.
The action of The Cincinnati Kid takes place over a three day period in New Orleans and in the French Quarter which was left fairly intact after Hurricane Katrina. It's fitting and proper the story location should be there, a city with a rich gambling tradition.
There's a couple of nice women's parts, kind of a coming of age for two young actresses who played virginal teenagers up to then, Tuesday Weld and Ann-Margret. Ann-Margret is the nymphomaniac wife of dealer Karl Malden, the Nathan Detroit of the piece. After The Cincinnati Kid, Ann-Margret never played innocents again.
Torn is a slick and malevolent villain who tries to compromise Karl Malden in his quest for vengeance against Robinson. Malden has a great part as a man who's caught by the short hairs.
Originally Spencer Tracy was to do the Lancey Howard role, but according to The Films of Steve McQueen, Tracy thought his role subordinate to McQueen's and bowed out. Other sources have said it was health reasons. Probably both are true. Anyway Robinson is a wily and wise old soul who goes to the poker table like most of us go to the office, to work.
This is one of Steve McQueen's four or five best screen roles, he's an ultimate rebel hero here. He's got what it takes to win, but he'll win it on his own terms.
This film is always called The Hustler at a card table. Like The Hustler, the last climatic scene of the poker showdown with McQueen and Robinson crackles with tension. Who's going to pull it out.
Don't think you can guess the outcome and all its ramifications. Not by a jugful
Steve McQueen, who was deservedly called Mister Cool, plays the young upcoming poker player, already said to be among the best in the business. But there is one he hasn't played against, The Man, Lancey Howard, played by the great Edward G. Robinson. With the help of his friend Shooter they set up the big fight. While having a high suspense factor in the poker scenes, the non-poker ones might get a bit boring at times, especially in the love story between the Kid and his girlfriend Christian. But when it comes to playing this gets almost perfect. McQueen has the ideal poker face, and so has Robinson, and they both play their parts realistically and brilliantly. McQueen was said not to be a real actor, just a poser, they said he didn't act he only looked, but he proves it wrong here. His facial expressions are perfect, and he plays the young hotshot player convincingly.
Needless to say the cast is the really stunning cast. Next to the afro-mentioned McQueen and Robinson, there's the always reliable Karl Malden, as Shooter. Malden has the most developed character in the picture, and he does a great job. And the women, oh my god, two stunning young ladies are here in all their glory. Ann-Margret plays the cheater, the femme fatal, the sexy beast, who's married to Shooter but wants the Kid. Surely one of the most attractive actresses of her time, actually all time, Ann is presented here in all her glory and beauty and sex appeal. Her seduction of McQueen early in the film, is incredibly sexy, and played brilliantly. They say Ann learned to act during Carnal Knowledge in '71. but that's not true, she already was a versatile and talented actress here. Watch her face during the cockfight scenes, or her cheating while doing a jigsaw puzzle, she acts naturally, and does a great job. And those tight dresses she wears with lots of cleavage are eye candy in its best form. One of the sexiest performances ever. Definitely shows you can be looking divine, and having acting talent at the same time.
Tuesday Weld plays the good girl, the girl from the country, Christian, and while not as pretty as Ann, she's quite a looker too, and she's also a talented and natural actress. The supporting cast is rounded out by Joane Blondell, Rip Torn, Cab Calloway and Jack Weston, all great actors who all do a fine job. Music score by Lalo Schifrin is good too, and so is the title track sung by legendary Ray Charles.
As for the often-mentioned, often-criticized last hand, it's Hollywood, only Hollywood, not a poker documentary. The film needs a strong climax, and gets it. Norman Jewison is a fine director, and especially the poker scenes and head-shots are well directed. Not much action, not much character development but it's not much of a problem. If only Peckinpah had directed, now that could have been something, Jewison is a great substitute, but I like the thought Peckinpah could have even improved it.
* Director Sam Peckinpah insisted on shooting a nude scene for this film featuring one of the female extras. He claimed that this scene would only be included in the European release of the movie. Producer Martin Ransohoff eventually fired Peckinpah after it was discovered that Peckinpah intended using the nude scene in the US print as well. The extra who was to appear nude was star-to-be Sharon Tate. She disappeared from the film along with Peckinpah.
* Spencer Tracy was originally cast as Lancey Howard but poor health forced him to withdraw and he was replaced by Edward G. Robinson.
* Mitzi Gaynor campaigned for the role of "Lady Fingers", but it ended up going to Joan Blondell. Rumors are abound as to why Blondell got the role, with the most common being that Gaynor and Ann-Margret did not quite get along.
* According to an article written by Michael Wiesenberg of Card Player Magazine, "[t]he odds of the two hands appearing in the same deal [in the climactic scene] are worse than 45 million-to-1."