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CINCINNATI KID, THE (director: Norman Jewison; screenwriters: from the novel by Richard Jessup/Ring Lardner, Jr./Terry Southern; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Hal Ashby; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: 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 (William Jefferson Slade), Jack Weston (Pig), Cab Calloway (Yeller), Jeff Corey (Hoban), Karl Swenson (Mr. Rudd); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: John Calley/Martin Ransohoff; MGM; 1965)
It’s the Hustler, with Steve McQueen playing stud poker instead of Paul Newman shooting pool.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s the Hustler, with Steve McQueen playing stud poker instead of Paul Newman shooting pool. Norman Jewison (“In The Heat Of The Night”/”Jesus Christ Superstar”/”Fiddler on the Roof”) directs it as a strong character study and writers Ring Lardner, Jr. and Terry Southern keep it lighweight tight as they adapt it fromRichard Jessup’s novel about an ambitious up-and-coming young card shark, the Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen), in the New Orleans of the late 1930s. Jewison took over for Sam Peckinpah when he was fired by producer Martin Ransohoff for creative differences (a firing that prevented him from working in Hollywood for a number of years, as he got labeled as a troublemaker). Iin all probability, the fired director would have made a stronger film.

The Kid is tired of small-time hustle games and challenges Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), the reigning poker champ, who is in New Orleans for a private game with a wealthy local businessman. After taking the chump’s money, the Kid’s honest dealer friend Shooter (Karl Malden), arranges a game with the Man. It all leads up to the big game between the brash underdog challenger and the aging, ruthless champ.

Local businessman Slade (Rip Torn) wants revenge after being badly beaten by Lancey, so he forces Shooter, who is in deep debt to him, to slip some winning cards to The Kid. Once the Kid realizes what’s going down he asks for Lady Fingers (Joan Blondell) to deal, as he’s determined to win in an honest game.

There’s also a romance story thrown in, as the Kid when not playing cards is torn between the love for a “good” woman, his girlfriend Christian (Tuesday Weld), and his lust for Melba (Ann-Margret), a sexy “bad” one, the wife of Shooter (Karl Malden).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”