I was rewatching the film recently and noticed another clever bit of foreshadowing that I thought I’d point out today. If you’ve never seen the film, this post won’t be so interesting as I’m going write with an assumption that you have. Also, even though we are nearly 50 years down the line here, I might as well say “spoiler alert” to those who still plan on seeing The Cincinnati Kid and don’t want to know how it ends.
Okay, so for those of us who’ve seen the movie... we all remember the last hand, right? The game is five-card stud. The Man (Edward G. Robinson) turns over the , showing that he has a straight flush, beating the full house of Eric (Steve McQueen) to bust him. You might not remember another, earlier hand, though, that bears a kind of interesting relationship to the last one.
Recall how the game begins with six players -- Eric, Lancey, Shooter, Doc Sokal, Pig, and Yeller -- before eventually all drop out to leave Eric and the Man to play heads-up. When they are still six-handed, a big hand develops between Lancey and Pig in which Lancey wins most of Pig’s money, then Pig beats a retreat.
In that earlier hand, Lancey (Edward G. Robinson) is showing a pair of jacks on third street and bets, and Doc Sokal calls. Then Pig raises with Q-7 showing. Both Lancey and Doc call. Fourth street is dealt -- apparent blanks to all three -- and this time Pig boldly bets the pot -- $980. Lancey calls him, and after making his calculations Doc calls too, chasing both a straight and a flush.
Fifth street is then dealt. Doc has missed both of his draws and he essentially bows out of the hand out of turn. Pig is showing Q-7-7-9, while Lancey shows J-J-10-3. Pig bets $1,500, then Lancey calmly raises to $4,000. Pig only has $1,100 left, and Lancey agrees to reduce his raise to that amount.
After fretting a bit, a highly agitated Pig decides to fold his hand. He then lurches across the table to get a look at Lancey’s hole card, but he’s stopped by the others. Pig then storms out with a great deal of petulance.
“Not very lucky, is he?” says Lancey with a deadpan look.
It’s hard to know exactly what the players had. Pig could have had a queen in the hole for queens and sevens and folded out of fear that Lancey had a third jack as his down card. Seems more likely, though, that Pig was trying to bluff Lancey out of the hand, his boldness on third and fourth in the face of Lancey’s pair of jacks part of a story he was trying to build about having a queen underneath. Thus he had no choice but to fold his worse hand at the end and save his last $1,100.
It doesn’t matter too much what the players had, though. In the end, Lancey had either a better hand -- or more nerve -- and thus broke Pig’s resolve.
After the hand comes that neat, short scene in which Lancey and Kid have a short talk. Among the topics they discuss is the hand with Pig that had just concluded.
“You know, that was a sweet thing you did to the Pig with those jacks,” says Eric. “You saw that coming, did you?” says Lancey. “Yeah, I saw it coming,” answers the Kid. “Before I raised?” asks Lancey. “I saw it coming, Lancey,” Eric confirms.
Like I say, we don’t know precisely what Lancey had in the hole, although Eric here speaks self-assuredly as though he did. Either Eric is saying he knew Lancey had trip jacks and was sandbagging, or -- more likely, I think -- he’s saying he knew Lancey didn’t have the jack and set up a fifth-street bluff that he knew Pig couldn’t call.
In either case, Eric is here confidently telling the Man that he knew for certain what Lancey had as his down card. And the only real issue regarding that hole card was whether or not it was a jack.
Notice how this relates to the final hand of the film? Recall all the spectators murmuring to each other when Lancey surprisingly reraises Eric on fifth street.
“My God, he’s got the jack,” says Slade. “He couldn’t have the jack!” says Shooter. “He hasn’t got the jack, the Kid’s got him,” he adds.
Alas for Eric, the Man does have the jack. Of course, it’s the one jack he needed here -- the -- to complete his straight flush. Nonetheless, the situation kind of echoes that earlier hand in which the Kid so boldly declared he knew what the Man had.