McQueen is the Kid, a young card player who believes he is the best in the country. Edward G. Robinson is the Man, the aging veteran that McQueen must knock off his pedestal. McQueen is cocky, confident, appealing, and fundamentally decent; Robinson is complex and opaque, with one of the greatest poker faces in cinema. The inevitable showdown between the two is a battle of wills and nerve which lasts a night, most of the next day and another night.
Almost half of the movie is taken up by the game itself, and it's the best half -- tense and exciting, with a classic (though very improbable) finish. Away from the card table, the film is only slightly less successful. Rip Torn plays a rich gangster who tries to blackmail the dealer (Malden) into fixing the game for the Kid. Meanwhile, the Kid also has to juggle the attentions of sixties archetypal pinups Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld. (Predictably, winner takes all and the loser gets nothing.)
Among a cast loaded with talent, McQueen and Robinson are excellent. Joan Blondell is good in a bit part as a has-been player who needles Robinson. The often-underutilized Weld can't do much with her wholesome character, but Torn and Ann-Margret get scenery to chew as the bad influences that try to drag the Kid down. The morality play is routine and the moral is familiar: someone has to fall, and fall hard. Screenwriters Ring Lardner and Terry Southern add snappy dialogue as expected, but the subplots are secondary to the action at the green felt table.
As a bonus, the film ably exploits New Orleans settings, from the opening jazz funeral to the blues band that briefly diverts the Kid as he kills time in the Quarter. (As a finishing piece de resistance to this period piece, Ray Charles sings the theme song.)
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th October 1965
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Filmways Pictures, Solar Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Norman Jewison
Producer: Martin Ransohoff
Screenwriter: Ring Lardner Jr., Terry Southern
Starring: Steve McQueen as The Cincinnati Kid, Edward G. Robinson as Lancey Howard, Ann-Margret as Melba Nile, Karl Malden as Shooter, Tuesday Weld as Christian Rudd, Joan Blondell as Lady Fingers, Rip Torn as William Jefferson Slade, Jack Weston as Pig, Cab Calloway as Yeller, Jeff Corey as Hoban, Theo Marcuse as Felix (as Theo Marcuse), Milton Selzer as Sokal, Karl Swenson as Mr. Rudd, Émile Genest as Cajun (as Emile Genest), Ron Soble as Danny, Irene Tedrow as Mrs. Rudd, Midge Ware as Mrs. Slade, Dub Taylor as Dealer