Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Cincinnati Kid and Looking Back

'The Cincinnati Kid' and Looking BackFor a long while now I’ve had to moderate comments on the blog for the sole reason that if I do not the blog would be riddled with spammy attempts at free linkage. I know it adds an extra bit of hassle for those wishing to make comments, not to mention might, perhaps, dissuade some from going to the bother of commenting at all. But the alternative of going without any sort of moderation isn’t really an option.

I get email notifications whenever comments are made, and usually during the course of a week I’ll get several messages letting me know of “comments” awaiting moderation that are examples of such spam. People (or programs) still try, I guess, even though these comments never do make it onto the site. Just this morning I was notified that someone had “commented” on three older posts, with each of the comments representing identical, hyperlink-peddling gibberish. Then during the time it has taken me to write this post, the same commenter tried one more time on another nearly two-year-old post.

Usually if the comment is on an older post, especially from years ago, the odds of it being spam go up considerably. However, sometimes such comments turn out to be genuine responses, with readers sharing their thoughts after having found the posts via searches on topics that interest them, then overcoming both the comment moderation hurdle and the fact that the passage of time might have made it seem less apt to be offering some belated rejoinder to some long dormant discussion.

Last night came an example of such in the form of a long, thoughtful comment by a reader to a post of mine from more than six years ago (good gosh) about The Cincinnati Kid.

Way back in early 2007, I was inspired to write a series of four posts about The Cincinnati Kid. The posts covered not just the 1965 film, but also the DVD commentary and the Richard Jessup novel on which the film was based.

The posts were as follows:

  • Commentary on the Commentary: The Cincinnati Kid (1/5/07)
  • Richard Jessup’s The Cincinnati Kid (1/7/07)
  • Poker Review: The Cincinnati Kid (1/9/07)
  • The Last Hand of The Cincinnati Kid: Differences Between the Novel and the Film (1/11/07)

  • (Incidentally, I also wrote another Poker & Pop Culture piece for PokerNews some time ago discussing “Critical Reception of ‘The Cincinnati Kid.’”)

    'The Cincinnati Kid' and Looking BackThe first of those four 2007 posts addresses the two commentary tracks on the Warner Brothers DVD released in 2005. One is by Phil Gordon and Dave Foley, then co-hosts of Celebrity Poker Showdown (a blast from the past, eh?), and other is by director Norman Jewison. I conclude (unsurprisingly) that of the two, Jewison’s contribution is much more relevant and interesting.

    The second post is a pretty thorough discussion of Jessup’s novel, which I still think is often too quickly dismissed as a pulpy throwaway. I tentatively talk about some of the differences between the novel and film (trying not to deliver any spoilers), and ultimately praise the book for its “hard-boiled” qualities and ability to present a few compelling characters. I do, however, conclude the film to be the greater achievement.

    The third post then presents a proper review of the movie in which I express my admiration of several of the film’s elements, including the acting, the script, and the successful presentation of various themes. The review having gone on longer than I’d wished, I then decided to save a discussion of the final scene for a separate post.

    That last post breaks down the big climactic hand of five-card stud played between Lancey Howard (“the Man”) and Eric, pointing out how the film actually changes some of the details of the hand from the way Jessup had presented it in the novel. In my discussion I defend the hand against the criticism many have lodged regarding its improbability, trying to fit it within the film’s attempt to communicate broader, “existential” ideas about life.

    It was this last post that has earned a couple of interesting comments recently. One came a few months ago from a reader suggesting an idea I’ve heard others consider, namely, that cheating occurs in the hand, with Lady Fingers (the dealer) acting as an accomplice to Lancey.

    Another comment was the one from last night by a reader wanting to take issue with my suggestion that “The Man” plays the final hand badly, then gets lucky. That comment provides an interesting justification for Lancey’s thinking in the hand (as shown in the film), explaining how it fits with an overall strategy put forth throughout the session to set up Eric for a huge loss.

    I found both of these recent comments on a post written years ago quite enjoyable. After so many years, my thoughts about the film have necessarily evolved somewhat, especially now that I teach it regularly in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. In fact, thanks mostly to the fact that every few months I’m rewatching it and discussing it with a new group of viewers, I’ve been inspired to write a couple more posts here about it, including one more focusing on that last hand:

  • Experience and The Cincinnati Kid (4/5/11)
  • Does the Kid Know Jack? (4/16/12)

  • Rereading that more recent post in which I again address the last hand, I realize it might partially support my reader’s comment about Lancey having successfully set up Eric for the big, final fall. In any case, I’ll let those who are interested to read more about the movie -- which I still rank as my favorite of all “poker films” -- follow these links and see what I’ve written as well as what my readers have had to say in response.

    'The Cincinnati Kid' and Looking BackA major theme in The Cincinnati Kid is the difference between the young and old and the important lessons learned by experience. The characters’ names of “the Kid” and “the Man” point to such a theme in a conspicuous way, with Eric’s desire to “be the Man” obviously paralleling the kind of “growing up” everyone goes through.

    Going back and rereading posts written years ago likewise brings to the fore the lessons of experience for your humble scribbler. I still feel connected to those early posts and am thus genuinely intrigued (and excited) by responses written to them. But I’ve also experienced much since I wrote them, with those experiences necessarily introducing some additional critical distance between my present and past selves.

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