Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Cincinnati Kid Turns 50

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the film I still consider the best of all poker movies, The Cincinnati Kid.

I guess Daniel Negreanu or “Kid Poker” is in his 40s now, so it isn't that odd to note The Cincinnati Kid is 50. Heck, Steve McQueen (aged 35 when he portrayed the title character) always did seem a little old for the part.

When the film debuted in 1965, initial reviews were lukewarm. It was frequently likened to The Hustler (1961), an obvious influence, with many viewing it a lesser attempt to tell a similar story. I tend to agree that The Hustler is greater cinematic achievement, although Kid has a lot going for it, too.

I’ve mentioned my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class here many times before. Every time I’ve taught the course I’ve included The Cincinnati Kid, and every time I’ve enjoyed seeing the students’ overwhelmingly positive response.

Many who are college-aged don’t bother much with films made three decades before they were born. Indeed, I seem to remember one or two of my students confessing to me it was the oldest movie they’d ever seen (if you can believe that). But a lot of them are surprised when they find it not just entertaining but thought-provoking as well. A very high percentage of them are surprised by the ending, too -- I’ve had many of them every semester tell me how they fully expected the Kid to win in the end.

The film gives the class a lot of great themes to explore, with the “coming of age” story at the heart of it, a theme connoted pretty transparently by “the Kid” and his duel with “the Man.” There are also a lot of interesting “existential” ideas in play, plus other commentary about human nature, gender roles, and other topics that make for some great discussions.

Way back in early 2007 (not that long after I started the blog) I wrote a series of posts about The Cincinnati Kid (both the film and the Richard Jessup book on which it is based). I’d probably put things differently today, but I can still link to those posts without too much embarrassment:

  • Commentary on the Commentary: The Cincinnati Kid
  • Richard Jessup’s The Cincinnati Kid
  • Poker Review: The Cincinnati Kid
  • The Last Hand of The Cincinnati Kid: Differences Between the Novel and the Film

  • Wrote a couple more posts since then, too, on the film -- “Does the Kid Know Jack?” and “The Cincinnati Kid and Looking Back” -- which contain still more thoughts about it. Meanwhile today over on PokerNews I wrote something exploring the final hand in particular which for many represents a deficit for the film given its odds-defying improbability. That article is titled “Hand Histories: 50 Years of Debate Over the Last Hand of ‘The Cincinnati Kid,’” if you’re curious.

    A half-century on, I’m keeping Kid at the top of my list of favorite poker films. Where does it rank on yours?

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    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Shamus (Tim here). Loved this column and your take on the movie. Have always thought the book was much inferior to the movie; the prose feels too mannered (at least for contemporary sensibilities). Great movie, and I agree with you it's the among the very best poker movies.

    10/21/2015 2:32 PM  

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