The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid ★★★½


[Originally written on my blog.]

Unexpectedly stylish, to the point where I had to check and make sure it really was directed by Jewison. (Sam Peckinpah started the film, but none of his footage survives, as far as I can determine.) Right from the opening credits, which look amazingly like what Treme would come up with decades later, it has an appealing shagginess, nicely matched by a Ring Lardner Jr./Terry Southern screenplay that somehow tends toward throw-away and understatement ("Let's go out to the car," pants Ann-Margret during the cockfight, hot with bloodlust; McQueen just looks amused and says "Why don't you relax, huh"?) while simultaneously acknowledging the archetypal nature of the characters. Trouble is, all the terrific material in the first half—not least of which is a superb, quietly eccentric turn by the young and still clean-cut Rip Torn—winds up merely serving as longwinded prologue to the second half's big poker showdown, which is not terrible as poker movies go but still inevitably treats luck as if it were skill. (I'd be The Man too if I could miraculously pull one specific card out of the deck whenever I needed it.) In the end, it feels like two different movies, the stronger of which amounts to marking time waiting for the weaker to show up. And while reliable reports suggest that the lame final shot was imposed on Jewison against his will, it's still there, at least in the cut available on DVD/Blu, to end things on a sour note of utterly phony sweetness.