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In 1930s New Orleans, the Cincinnati Kid, a young stud poker player who travels from one big game to the next, stopping along the way up with various girls, is pitted against the legendary champion card-sharp Lancey Howard in a high-stakes poker game. Written by
A poker classic with suspense, realistic characters and a stunning cast
Steve McQueen, who was deservedly called Mister Cool, plays the young upcoming poker player, already said to be among the best in the business. But there is one he hasn't played against, The Man, Lancey Howard, played by the great Edward G. Robinson. With the help of his friend Shooter they set up the big fight. While having a high suspense factor in the poker scenes, the non-poker ones might get a bit boring at times, especially in the love story between the Kid and his girlfriend Christian. But when it comes to playing this gets almost perfect. McQueen has the ideal poker face, and so has Robinson, and they both play their parts realistically and brilliantly. McQueen was said not to be a real actor, just a poser, they said he didn't act he only looked, but he proves it wrong here. His facial expressions are perfect, and he plays the young hotshot player convincingly.
Needless to say the cast is the really stunning cast. Next to the afro-mentioned McQueen and Robinson, there's the always reliable Karl Malden, as Shooter. Malden has the most developed character in the picture, and he does a great job. And the women, oh my god, two stunning young ladies are here in all their glory. Ann-Margret plays the cheater, the femme fatal, the sexy beast, who's married to Shooter but wants the Kid. Surely one of the most attractive actresses of her time, actually all time, Ann is presented here in all her glory and beauty and sex appeal. Her seduction of McQueen early in the film, is incredibly sexy, and played brilliantly. They say Ann learned to act during Carnal Knowledge in '71. but that's not true, she already was a versatile and talented actress here. Watch her face during the cockfight scenes, or her cheating while doing a jigsaw puzzle, she acts naturally, and does a great job. And those tight dresses she wears with lots of cleavage are eye candy in its best form. One of the sexiest performances ever. Definitely shows you can be looking divine, and having acting talent at the same time.
Tuesday Weld plays the good girl, the girl from the country, Christian, and while not as pretty as Ann, she's quite a looker too, and she's also a talented and natural actress. The supporting cast is rounded out by Joane Blondell, Rip Torn, Cab Calloway and Jack Weston, all great actors who all do a fine job. Music score by Lalo Schifrin is good too, and so is the title track sung by legendary Ray Charles.
As for the often-mentioned, often-criticized last hand, it's Hollywood, only Hollywood, not a poker documentary. The film needs a strong climax, and gets it. Norman Jewison is a fine director, and especially the poker scenes and head-shots are well directed. Not much action, not much character development but it's not much of a problem. If only Peckinpah had directed, now that could have been something, Jewison is a great substitute, but I like the thought Peckinpah could have even improved it.
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