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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

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2:01 | Trailer
A proud strip club owner is forced to come to terms with himself as a man, when his gambling addiction gets him in hot water with the mob, who offer him only one alternative.

Director:

John Cassavetes

Writer:

John Cassavetes

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Ben Gazzara ... Cosmo Vittelli
Timothy Carey ... Flo (as Timothy Agoglia Carey)
Seymour Cassel ... Mort Weil
Robert Phillips ... Phil
Morgan Woodward ... The Boss
John Kullers John Kullers ... The Accountant (as John Red Kullers)
Al Ruban Al Ruban ... Marty Reitz
Azizi Johari Azizi Johari ... Rachel
Virginia Carrington Virginia Carrington ... Mama
Meade Roberts Meade Roberts ... Mr. Sophistication
Alice Friedland Alice Friedland ... Sherry
Donna Gordon Donna Gordon ... Margo Donnar (as Donna Marie Gordon)
Haji ... Haji
Carol Warren Carol Warren ... Carol
Kathalina Veniero Kathalina Veniero ... Annie
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Storyline

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 <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A film by John Cassavetes.

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This was actually a story idea developed by John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese years previously. See more »

Goofs

Flo says "That jerk Karl Marx said opium is the religion of the people." The actual Marx quote is "Religion is the opiate of the masses." See more »

Quotes

Cosmo Vitelli: I'm a club owner. I deal in girls.
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Alternate Versions

The original 1976 release features extended time in the bar with Cosmo while he is celebrating having just paid off his loan shark, early in the film. This scene includes his driver Eddie coming in to convince Cosmo to leave, and the two of them discuss growing up in New York. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Californication: Vaginatown (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

Imagination
(uncredited)
Music by Jimmy Van Heusen
Lyrics by Johnny Burke
Performed by Meade Roberts
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User Reviews

Cassavetes: Meditations on the original face II
9 August 2013 | by chaos-rampantSee all my reviews

One of the most stimulating relaxations I know is simply floating on water. The good thing in living a short walk from the beach is that I get to do this every other day of nearly half the year. It's great at dusk, whereby the sea is not some abstract volume but the specific sensation of upfloat, and the early moon is that rock over there from me. Tangible moments of world, encompassing what the Chinese call the tao.

No film even compares to the feeling, certainly no piffle Koyannisqatsi. But a few filmmakers come close to this totality as something felt. Cinema is nothing in a large sense, that is until a certain point where it becomes a most powerful tool for enlightenment. Cassavetes is one of those guys, and knows just how to use it.

So I revisited this after many years as part of my Cassavetes series, this time watching the extended version. The shorter one may be tighter, more focused, but I'll always opt for a longer stay in his world.

The film is the perfect summer night movie, one to watch with the distant sound of motor noise flowing through open windows. Cassavetes loves the night, the neon signs, the sound of traffic, the hubbub of the nightclub, the brushing of people in close spaces. The film is full of extremely memorable spaces, years later I could recall Cosmo standing in the entrance of his club, the backalley where he's beaten up, the empty highway, the phonebooth in the middle of nowhere, running from the Chinaman's house.

Here, Cassavetes stretches two things. The existential noir where desire, not even so much for poker money, the desire it seems to look comfortable in front of people, summons the noir darkness. Usually in a noir, from that point we get some hallucinative fooling with the narration, here completely merged with the flow of things. The murky proposal for the kill in the cramped car, nothing telegraphed. The subtle menace and helplessness around the gangsters. The foreshadowing bang of the flat tire. The inescapable framing where he was the stooge of fate all along.

And a more gentle self-reference, where Cosmo, standing for Cassavetes, gambles with money-people and loses. These mafia executives want from him a straightforward movie that ends with a killing, the simplest stuff, which he grudgingly delivers. The starkest contrast from the fancy, lively improvisation going on in his club, that both reflects and ribs at Cassavetes' own stuff. He does it his way of course, with fumbling, confusion and uncertainty. And still succeeds. Only The Long Goodbye rivals it in the crime sweepstakes of the 70s, no doubt inspired by this.

Here, because of the adoption of genre with its clear horizon, the tethers are easier than previous Cassavetes films. Oh there is the anxiety, but that is part and parcel of the greater life. More than any of his films though, it achieves that sublime floating sense that encompasses a concrete totality.

His camera excites me like no one else's. Antonioni adopts the transcendent position. Tarkovsky the one of flowing mind. Cassavetes adopts the position of tentative coming-into-being, his visual space has a thick and viscous quality, it has time, it has a tangible and floating gravity, all things coming to be and vanishing again in a cosmic vitality.

Cosmo, a man of cosmic vitality. All through the gangster stuff, Cosmo keeps worrying about the show and the club. Because the show and the atmosphere around his club are of the soul of this man, the images and living space worth living for—dreamy and spontaneous, scented air, a little sloppy because it is re-discovered each night. But that is as much a role, the entrepreneur, as that of the killer, the gambler, the suave playboy, masks for the night. Not the original face.

Deep down I get the sense of a weary joy that runs deeper than happiness, a mono no aware.

Something to meditate upon.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

15 February 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie See more »

Filming Locations:

Hollywood, California, USA See more »

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Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$11,406
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Faces Distribution See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (1978 Re-Release)

Sound Mix:

Mono | Mono (Todd-AO)

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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