“After the game, I’ll be the man. I’ll be the best there is.”
If The Hustler is the greatest movie about games ever, then The Cincinnati Kid is the second best. The main reason it isn’t number one is that The Cincinnati Kid is almost a carbon copy of The Hustler. Steve McQueen steps into Paul Newman’s role, this time as a hotshot young poker player rather than a pool shark. Karl Malden plays the George C. Scott role as a little more sympathetic character, and Edward G. Robinson fills Jackie Gleason’s role as the world’s best poker player.
I can’t turn on the TV any more without seeing a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament somewhere. On any given day, there are nine channels carrying one game or another. It’s the most pervasive television program on the air, outside maybe reruns of The Simpsons. Now when I get together with my buddies for a (non-profit) game, most of them always want to play Texas Hold ‘Em, “like they saw on TV”. But my favourite is five-card stud. Because I saw it in a movie. This movie.
The best thing about The Cincinnati Kid is the supporting cast around McQueen. Of course, he is still one of the coolest men who ever lived, and perfectly personifies the badass cockiness of the title character. But with Karl Malden doing some spectacular yet subtle work as McQueen’s mentor, and Edward G. Robinson stealing every scene in which he appears as The Man, and Ann-Margret walking around and being crazy-hot, and Rip Torn and Cab Calloway and Tuesday Weld and Joan Blondell doing exemplary work as well, McQueen doesn’t have to carry the movie as he so often did in his career. And although he is still the most compelling actor (he should be – he’s the star) in the cast, he wouldn’t be half as good without Malden and Robinson and the rest. A wonderful film.