The Cincinnati Kid

June 29, 2008

 WARNING — MOVIE SPOILERS INCLUDED IN ARTICLE

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of viewing The Cincinnati Kid for the first time. I can’t for the life of me explain how this gem slipped through the cracks, especially since I’m such a fan of poker movies, not to mention cinema in general. Had I seen it a few months ago, you can bet I’d have included a few choice quotes for my movie quote article…ones like.

“You’re just not ready for me yet.”

And…

“You’re good, kid. But as long as I’m around, you’ll always be No. 2.”

And….

“I can get the money.” “I know you can, kid.”

I can’t praise the setting, that “classic movie feel”, and the stellar performances that highlight this flick. Of course, Steve McQueen plays The Cincinnati Kid”…but the supporting cast of Karl Malden, Rip Torn (you’d never recognize him) and Ann Margaret light up the screen with memorable and passionate characters.

I was really in awe of how great a job the movie does at showing the poker players unspoken interaction. The “Pig” character sweating and clutching his money. The “man” faking a back injury to give the appearance that he was becoming weak. The doctor calculation poker odds on a notebook between every round of betting. And, of course, the cool, slick blank stares from the Kid. Great stuff.

The movie is great, though, for two reasons.

First, McQueen is a bad ass. No secret, but worth pointing out. He has such an amazing screen presence, and is one of the best in history at acting with his eyes, something so subtle but so key to making his role in this movie. I probably could’ve sat through 3 more hours of McQueen just staring at his opponents with different faces because of how cool it is.

Second, the movie’s about poker. From start to finish. Crazy, huh? A poker movie exclusively about poker. Don’t get me wrong, movies like Maverick (more of an action/comedy) and Rounders (more of a drama) are superb movies in their own right, but they can’t hold a candle to The Cincinnati Kid as a poker movie. It’s kinda like how The Sting is about “the sting” almost from start to finish. It doesn’t mess around and doesn’t lead you off onto too many other tangents. That’s what I love about “Kid.”

Seriously, if you’re at all a fan of poker and movies, you want to see “The Cincinnati Kid.” However, I will say personally that I was somewhat disappointed in the ending. Not necessarily because of what happened to Kid (you can’t help but root for him despite his flaws and mistakes), but because it just ended….right at the end of the big game. I wanted more, more aftermath, more resolution. Something more.

One other nice little benefit to seeing a classic movie like this, is you can then revisit more recent movies you’ve seen that have drawn influence from it and match up the scenes. The major example of this for me was a movie made a few years ago called Shade. It’s about a completely different aspect of poker (mainly being good at cheating), but there are some exchanges between the main character and The Duke in Shade that are almost carbon copies of exchanges between The Cincinnati Kid and Lacey Howard, aka “The Man.”

I think I enjoyed spotting these scenes as much as I enjoyed the acting and gameplay in the movie itself. Another thing I enjoyed was that the Kid wasn’t a hustler, at least I didn’t get the sense that he was being portrayed as such in this movie. He had a solid reputation and was just making his way as a hell of a poker player. Ain’t that the American dream, right? :)

So, “The Cincinnati Kid” now sits near the top, if not at the top, of my list of poker movies. For straight poker action and classic entertainment, it doesn’t get much better. I’m guessing many kids walked out of this movie back in the day wanting to become poker players.