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Cosmo Vitelli owns the Crazy Horse West, a strip joint in Los Angeles. He's laconic, vet, and a gambler. When we meet him, he's making his last payment on a gambling debt, after which, he promptly loses $23,000 playing poker. The guys he owes this time aren't so friendly, pressuring him for immediate payment. When he's not able to do so, they suggest he kill a Chinese bookie to wipe away his 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 name of the Californian strip-joint nightclub in Los Angeles was "The Crazy Horse West". See more »
That jerk Karl Marx said opium was the... religion of people. I got news for him, it's money.
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-The opening. The 1976 version opens with the credit sequence, in the style of an Asian movie, and then cutting to Cosmo following a loan shark to the back. The 1978 version opens with the "it'll pick up" scene, then cutting to much more western style opening credits, and then showing him arriving to meet the loan shark
-The 1978 version removes all the stage performance scenes, which accounts for at least 15 minutes of the movie
-The 1978 version includes an additional scene showing the gangster extorting a couple before they see Cosmo.
-In the 1978 version, Cosmo's meeting with the gangsters is extended. This is where we learn Cosmo was in the Korean war. It also explains why Cosmo is out with the girls in the next scene.
-The 1978 version cuts out most of the bits involving Cosmo picking up the girls to go to the club, including meeting with families and talking to one of them in the limo.
-The 1978 version cuts out an early scene of Cosmo in the dressing room with Mr Sophistication and the girls. See more »
It's hard not to be engaged by something this authentic
It's been said by many that "Chinese Bookie" is the toughest of any Cassavetes films to digest. There are many slow passages (here I'm referring to the 1976 original version), many moments of embarrassing awkwardness, as you are forced to watch extended sequences filled with players who aren't any more talented or skilled than those at your local summer stock production or junior high school play.
Yet, it's very difficult not to be compelled by the story, especially as embodied in the character of Cosmo Vitelli, who Ben Gazzara seems to channel effortlessly, as if he were a second, transparent skin.
Cosmo is a fascinating character. He owns a rather ratty strip club/cabaret joint on the Sunset Strip that fronts production values and performers of the qualities mentioned earlier, does middling business, and spends nearly every dime he makes "living the high life" or the "the image" of what someone in his profession should espouse. He swills $100 bottles of Champagne, cruises around town in his plush chauffeured Caddy, an entourage of bimbettes in tow, usually to a dive mob-run poker joint that inevitably lands him in massive debt.
He would be an easy character to scorn or mock in another film, but not as Gazzara and Cassavetes portray him. Cosmo is proud of his little world and his accomplishments, and further more, could not give a damn if anyone doesn't approve of them. "You have no style," he sneers at gangster Al Ruban early in the film after the thug condescends to him.
As weird as it sounds, you have to respect someone like that, even when he finds himself increasingly trapped by circumstances and succumbing to self-doubt. At the end of the picture he says how important it is to "feel comfortable" with oneself and while we don't believe for a second that Cosmo really feels this way, we know he *wants* to. It's a refreshingly human response in a movie that only contains more of the same.
It's not a conventional audience pleaser by any means, but if you've watched other Cassavetes pictures and like his candid stream-of-consciousness style, give the 1978 edited version of "Bookie" a watch before you see the original. Cass not only cut half an hour of footage, he did it with (what else?) incredible style and creativity, really tightening the structure of the film as a whole, considerably juicing its already engaging premise.
Quite possibly the most overlooked gem from one of the '60s and '70s most commercially under-appreciated directors.
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