Back in print on DVD courtesy of Warner Archive, The Cincinnati Kid was adapted by Ring Lardner, Jr (M*A*S*H) and Terry Southern (Easy Rider) from a novel by Richard Jessup. Steve McQueen (The Blob) was still establishing his screen persona when The Cincinnati Kid hit theaters in 1965, even though one of his most iconic roles came two years earlier in The Great Escape. Eric “The Kid” Stoner (McQueen) is the best poker player in 1930’s era New Orleans. Lancey “The Man” Howard (Edward G. Robinson, The Ten Commandments) has long been considered the best five card stud player in the land. Much the way Fast Eddie must take on Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, The Kid must play The Man.
For director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of Heat of the Night) then primarily known for his work in comedies, The Cincinnati Kid represented a shot at more serious films. Called in to replace Sam Peckinpah two weeks into filming, Jewison has a wonderful eye, giving viewers a taste of New Orleans’ French Quarter–a funeral parade, replete with jazz music, narrow streets, second story overhangs and mansard roofs–are all part of the scenery. Jewison and cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop shoot the film in a smooth, wide open style, with few closeups, until the big game, when the players facial expressions become the emotional center of the film.
The cast is uniformly excellent. McQueen’s Kid is a soft-spoken man of principle. The big game means everything to him, but he still finds time for romance. His girlfriend Christian (Tuesday Weld) is young, naïve and a bit of a free spirit, she decides to go visit her parents after Kid won’t commit to her. McQueen and Weld have a genuine chemistry, but their relationship only serves as interesting filler until the big game. It’s Karl Malden (The Hanging Tree) though, who nearly steals every scene he’s in. Shooter is a conflicted man, as Kid’s best friend, he knows how good he is at the tables, but he’s got his own problems; markers to pay off and a straying wife played by Ann-Margret who views him as a loser. Edward G. Robinson commands the room. McQueen may be the epitome of cool, but Edward G. is a boss.
The big game dominates the third act of the film. Knowing the rules of high stakes poker aren’t important. Watch the faces, read the subtle changes in expression and then listen in on the break time revelations. There’s more money at stake, obviously, but pride is on the line, in 1930’s America that’s not to be taken lightly. The Cincinnati Kid is an enjoyable film that serves as a reminder of how good Steve McQueen was as part of an ensemble, unafraid to share the spotlight if it served the story.
The Cincinnati Kid is presented in an anamorphic transfer at 1.78 :1 aspect ratio, with the original monaural audio. English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Commentary with Director Norman Jewison
- Scene Specific Commentary by Celebrity Poker Showdown Hosts Phil Gordon and Dave Foley
- The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle (6:15) Card shark Jay Ose trains Joan Blondell in card handling.