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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Movie Reviewed

By The Boss | November 29, 2010

The Cincinnati Kid is a poker movie filmed long before the modern culture adopted poker as the new way to quick wealth. Poker was viewed as a back street vice and the film reflects this world of back hand transactions and life changing, even life ending, decisions being made on the turn of a card. This movie features Steve McQueen as Eric Stoner and he is known as “The Kid”. Lancey Howard comes to town and is known as “The Man”. Being the new kid in town Stoner wants a shot at beating “The Man”. Stoner’s friend Shooter reminds him that the Man is the best.

The viewer will note that this movie is simplistic in its plot regarding poker. A slick player called Jefferson comes to town and is beaten by Howard. He then enlists the help of Shooter calling in a previous debt to him and asks Shooter, who is going to be dealing the game featuring “The Kid” and “The Man” to cheat in “The Kids” favour because he wants revenge on the card shark. As the game wears on Eric Stoner wants to beat “The Man” to prove himself as a player, he does not like the cheating. But on the final hand he suffers a terrible beat and loses all of his money. It is a classic struggle between good and evil, skill versus luck and destiny versus disaster.

The film received criticism from the poker community for the way in which the final hand plays itself out. Anthony Holden is quoted in his book “Big Deal, A Year As a Professional Poker Player” as saying “”If these two played 50 hands of stud an hour, eight hours a day, five days a week, the situation would arise about once every 443 years.” The hand does add drama to the scene with an excellent poker message, if you are risking everything and all of your poker bankroll in one hand that one card to beat you can destroy you. It certainly destroys “The Kid” in this movie.

Steve McQueen gives an excellent performance in this movie. He has the unique acting gift of telling the viewer a story through extremely subtle facial expressions and his facial expressions and presence are more powerful than his dialogue in this movie. Lancey Howard is played fantastically by Edward G. Robinson who is ruthless and able as the poker master. Many criticised this film as only watchable for poker players, many drew comparisons to “The Hustler” which they commented had more watchable material. Perhaps true, but as poker players this movie is as watchable today in 2009 as it was 45 years ago on it’s release which is a testament to it’s cinematic quality.

My own criticisms were the lack of creativity as the plot plays out exactly as a classic poker story would in Hollywood. The young superstar wants a shot at the man. The rich “baddie” poker player, who cannot win by playing straight, is happy to cheat to gain what he wants and manipulates the worn down player close to the young superstar with a history he can exploit. Agonizingly the weak side kick must agree. But the kid wants a level playing field mano-a-mano against the legend, who is ruthless and lucky. This could be argued as both the best and worst parts of this movie.

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