“An up-and-coming poker player tries to prove himself in a high-stakes match against a long-time master of the game.”

Director: Norman Jewison
Writers: Richard Jessup, Ring Lardner Jr. Terry Southern
Staring: Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Joan Blondell, Rip Torn
Release Date: October 30, 1965
Streaming: HBO Max

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) is the story of Eric “The Kid” Stoner (Steve McQueen), a young stud poker star who is quietly aiming to be the best at his craft. His chance to proof himself comes when the well-renowned and oft top-talked Lancey “The Man” Howard (Edward G. Robinson) arrives in town. The stakes are nailed down for a high pressure poker event that has The Kid, The Man and everyone they are connected with, on edge.

The Cincinnati Kid is one of the best poker movies I have ever seen. I have not seen many, I will be the first to admit that, but The Kid is one of the most captivating characters from any card-centric. movie. His quiet desire to be the best fuels him, but it also takes him down. The Kid cheats on his girl with the wife of his good friend, Shooter (Karl Malden). Melba (Ann-Margret) is seduced by the power that Kid is quietly oozing and the Kid is seduced by his own self confidence.

The infidelity between the pair comes during a break of The Kid’s poker match against Howard. It is when The Kid is riding high with the majority of the money. After the act occurs, his girl (that he visited at her home when he was feeling lonely and needed a true friend) Christian (Tuesday Weld) walks in on them together in the room. It is a fracture. A crack in the prestige world The Kid was living in.

More cracks occur when The Kid loses his game against Howard. He is running the table, seemingly in control. Everyone around him sees him as dancing around Howard till the inevitable conclusion. In classic movie poker fashion, one untimely hand undoes the The Kid. Howard gets a straight flush while The Kid has a full house. He played it smart with the bet but still lost. A metaphor for how people can make the right moves in life and still not get what they want, because you know, life is a pain of the ass.

The loss sends the Kid into a mini spiral. He loses a classic sidewalk game to a little kid who he always beat, and then he turns the corner to see Christian’s back turned to him. They don’t shy away from each other, but the warm smile is no longer there. It is all crumbling around him. And another notch in The Cincinnati’s Kid cap is that we don’t see how it all plays out. The audience sees The Kid slip off the cliff, but we don’t know how deep the fall is. It is not a happy ending because it is not the ending The Kid deserves. Or is it?

The Kid is an upstanding guy when it comes to poker. He doesn’t play games that he has cards against, and he doesn’t play in games where he is being set up with cards. This comes to head when Stoner finds out that Shooter is setting him up for success at the behest of Slade (Rip Torn), who is solely out for revenge on Howard after an embarrassing loss. So the Kid is an upstanding individual when it comes to his work, but lacking when it comes to personal impulses. In that way, The Kid is a kid.

The Cincinnati Kid is a wonderful poker movie with a complex character at its center. You are torn in which way to root or against him. Do you want someone to reach their pinnacle? Do we want to see a tale of emergence or a tale of sadness?

STANKO RATING: A- (4.0/5 Stars)

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