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Cosmo Vitelli owns the Crazy Horse West, a strip joint in California. He's laconic, a Korean War vet, and a gambler. When we meet him, he's making his last payment on a gambling debt. Then, he promptly loses $23,000 playing poker at an illegal local casino. The guys he owes this time aren't so friendly, pressuring him for immediate payment. Then they suggest that he kill a Chinese bookie to wipe off the debt. Vitelli and the film move back and forth between the double-crossing, murderous insincerity of the gamblers and the friendships, sweetness, and even love among Vitelli, the dancers, a dancer's mother, and the club's singer, Mr. Sophistication. Written by
THE KILLING OF A Chinese BOOKIE is John Cassavetes fascinating look into the world of Cosmo Vitelli, owner of the Crazy Horse West, a California strip club. Cosmo, played by Ben Gazzara, owes a fortune in gambling debts, and agrees to commit a murder to payoff the loan. It's a set-up from the get go because the mob never believed he could pull it off, and was hoping that he would be killed, and then they would inherit his club. Cassavetes creates an homage to The French New Wave by employing surreal settings and improvisational dialog to create a Dadaist framework for the tale. Many scenes begin in near blackness, and abruptly, LA sunlight streams into the murky darkness while actors lines ricochet and overlap. The entertainment at the club is not the standard "Bump and Grind", but a strange 'Theater of The Absurd' where Cosmo orchestrates the action, or "he'll throw you out on your ass". Where Martin Scorsese used high energy rock'n'roll to highlight this same gangster demimonde, Cassavetes employs a more idiosyncratic soundtrack to heighten the psychological dimensions of the piece. Ben Gazzara provides an unforgettable portrait of a man grappling with a life that is beyond his ability to control. Also, Seymour Cassel puts in a wonderful performance as a mobbed up club owner. All of Cassavetes's films are noteworthy, and THE KILLING OF A Chinese BOOKIE is one of his finest.
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