The Cincinnati Kid (1965) – A Movie Review

Here’s a movie that I can’t decide if I love or hate.  Steve McQueen is the too cool to have any facial expression Cincinnati Kid.  He’s a stud poker player in in New Orleans.  His girlfriend is too cute for words farm girl Christian (played by Tuesday Weld) and his mentor is Shooter played by Karl Malden.  Shooter is the man who arranges all the high-end poker matches and acts as the professional dealer.  He’s married to Melba, played way over the top by Ann Margaret as she slinks around in her underwear waiting for the Kid to betray his girlfriend and her husband and join her in bed.

The climax of the movie is a high stakes poker match between the Kid and Lancey Howard played by Edward G. Robinson.  Lancey is “The Man.”  If the Kid can beat him, he becomes the foremost stud poker player in his world and his future becomes assured.  But a rich New Orleans gambler named Slade (played by Rip Torn) is stinging from a poker beating he took from Lancey and he extorts Shooter to throw the game to the Kid.  Halfway through Cincinnati figures out he’s being fed cards and because he wants to win the game himself, he forces Shooter out of the deal.  And for good measure, during one of the breaks from poker, he beds Melba.  Unfortunately, Christian picks exactly that moment to return from a visit to her parents and discovers Melba even less dressed than usual in Cincinnati’s room.

The end of the game comes in a hand that includes an ace high full house and a straight flush.  Oh, come on!  I’ll let you watch the movie to see who ends up on top but I’ll add that the Kid ends up getting the girl back (at least in one version of the movie).

So why can’t I figure out how I feel about the movie?  Well, it’s a construct.  It’s like they put it together by recipe.  Ultra-cool young gambler, Steve McQueen, check.  Impossibly sweet, pretty blonde girl, Tuesday Weld, check.  Cast of familiar, stereotyped character actors, check, check, check.  Voluptuous, half naked girl throwing herself at star, Ann Margaret, check.  Classy, golden age actor to lend some gravitas, Edward G. Robinson, checkmate.  It’s all by the numbers.  They even lay on the New Orleans atmosphere with old time jazz players and even throw Cab Calloway in as one of the gamblers.  It’s just too much.

But for whatever reason if I’m in the mood to watch a spectacle I end up enjoying the movie.  Edward G. Robinson is just too much fun to watch and listen to.  He doesn’t have that much to work with but he fills out the roll with style.  We feel the aches and pains of the old man sitting hour after hour at the table playing against the younger man.  His banter with Joan Blondell as the alternate dealer “Lady Fingers” is amusing.  Even the scene where the Kid meets Christian’s back country family and shows them some card tricks is charming.  What can I say?  I like it.  I know it’s a set up and I’m the mark but it works.  The critics said this was a copycat movie of Paul Newman’s pool room film, “The Hustler.”  They’re probably right.  But this is the less serious, less fraught version and I think it’s more enjoyable.  I’ll recommend it with my remarks above as the qualifier.  It’s a contrived spectacle but that’s what Hollywood makes.

The Blob (1958) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

The plot is fairly simple.  A meteor crashes to Earth near a small town in the United States.  An old man finds the impact crater and a spherical object within.  The object breaks apart and inside is a blob of gelatinous material about the size of a baseball.  He uses a stick to pick it up but eventually the blob latches onto his hand and starts to absorb his flesh.  The old man wanders onto a nearby road almost overwhelmed by the agony he’s in.  A teenage couple in a car pick him up and bring him to a doctor’s office.  The doctor realizes that the man will need his arm amputated to save him from the quickly spreading mass devouring his arm.  He calls his nurse to come and assist him while the teenage couple, Steve and Jane, go back to the scene of the accident to find out who the old man is.

The nurse arrives but by this time the old man has been absorbed by the blob.  While the doctor is getting his gun, the blob eats the nurse.  He shoots the creature a couple of times with no effect.  He locks himself in a room to call the police but the blob is able to squeeze under the locked door and attacks the doctor.  At this point Steve and Jane have returned to the doctor’s office and Steve is just in time to see the doctor digested by the blob through the window of the room the doctor is in.

Now Steve and Jane attempt to get the police lieutenant “Dave” to believe their story.  Sgt. Bert tries to dissuade Dave from pursuing the investigation because he thinks the teenagers are pulling a prank on the police and after they go to the doctor’s office and find nothing but knocked over furniture and a fired rifle the police are in doubt what to do.  Jane and Steve are remanded into the custody of their parents and told to stay home and report back in the morning to figure out what was really going on.

Steve and Jane sneak out of their homes and together with their teenage friends try to investigate what is going on.  Meanwhile the blob wanders around town and eats a few more people without anyone being aware of its presence.  Finally, Steve locates it in his father’s supermarket.  But the creature traps Steve and Jane in the refrigerated meat locker of the store.  It begins oozing under the door but suddenly it retreats and leaves the store.

Now convinced of the deadly nature of the blob the teenagers decide to wake the whole town by setting off fire and civil defense alarms to summon the townspeople to the town square.  After Sgt. Bert berates them for a while Dave decides that he believes Steve and Jane.  They head for the supermarket but Sgt. Bert precedes them and comes out of the empty supermarket mocking their story about a monster.  Just then a terrific clamor breaks out as the patrons of the movie theater come stampeding out screaming.  The blob has eaten the projectionist and absorbed about fifty of the viewers before they could escape in the crush.  Now the blob is the size of a small house and headed down main street.

By incredibly poor judgement Jane, Steve, Jane’s annoying 6-year old brother Danny and the diner staff get trapped inside as the blob engulfs the small building.  As the creature begins oozing into the crevices of the building Dave calls up the trapped inhabitants of the diner and tells them to get in the cellar while they try to electrocute the creature with a power line.  Sgt. Bert proves himself useful for something when his sharpshooting abilities allows him to knock an overhanging power line down.  But the creature is not effected by the current and all that is accomplished is now the building is on fire.

As the fire infiltrates the cellar the diner owner starts using a CO2 fire extinguisher to put out the flames.  But Steve notices that the blob retreats from the extinguisher.  Remembering how the creature had retreated from the meat locker in the supermarket he figures out that the blob can’t tolerate cold.  Dave screams up the stairs in hopes that the phone is still connected to the police officers outside and tells them that the cold from CO2 fire extinguishers will force the blob to retreat.  But the fire department that is on the scene only has four CO2 extinguishers and that will not be nearly enough to push the creature back and subdue it.  Jane’s father is the principal of the high school and he goes to the school with the teenagers to get the twenty extinguishers that the school has.  When he gets there, he realizes he does not have the keys but proving he is a red-blooded American father he picks up a large stone and breaks the door window and breaks into his own school to save his children.

The extinguishers work and the trapped humans are freed.  Lieutenant Dave speaks to the Army and tells them to send a plane to dump the blob into the arctic where it will never thaw out.  And that’s just what they do.  But the end title, “The End” turns into a question mark!

Okay, so what have we got here?  Steve McQueen is a twenty-eight-year-old man pretending to be teenager Steve.  That’s a tough sell.  Watching him golly gee wilikers around his girlfriend Jane is strange when I think that he is the Steve McQueen of Bullitt and Cincinnati Kid fame.  But let’s put that aside.  The storyline and the acting are definitely passable for this genre.  The teenagers hot-rodding around and the small-town cops hassling them is a staple of movies from this time.  The cheesy special effects are also forgivable because of the technology of the time.  So, the simple answer is this movie works.  I remember seeing this on tv as a kid and thinking it was the height of sophisticated science fiction.  So, it definitely succeeded with its audience of the time.  How about today.  Well I think the same audience would react almost as enthusiastically.  Anyone under the age of ten will enjoy this movie.  For the really old I found myself enjoying the nostalgia of an era where the teenagers weren’t cretinous woke monsters but just ordinary teenagers enjoying a summer night in small town America.  Your mileage may vary.

As an aside, the actor who played the first victim of the blob, the old man, was Olin Howland, a character actor who also first saw the giant ants in Los Angeles during the movie “Them.”  He was an alcoholic drying out in a psychiatric hospital when the Army interviews him about the giant ants he has seen in the dried river bed into which the sewers flow.  He certainly got the plum roles.

The Great Escape – A Movie Review

The Great Escape came out in 1963.  It’s based on an actual World War II large scale escape by British Commonwealth soldiers from a German POW camp during World War II.  Some American actors were added in to increase the interest for American audiences but for the most part the details of the story are true.

There’s an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.  On the British side there’s Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence and a bunch of Brits I never heard of.

The plan is to build a tunnel out of the camp and provide clothes and identification papers for 250 men to scatter over the countryside and escape out of Germany.  Each of the men has a particular skill; tunnellers, scroungers of supplies, document forgers, tailors, etc.  The ingenuity they use to perform this seemingly impossible series of operations is remarkable.  They begin building three tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry) and accumulating their supplies.  There are setbacks and delays.  The first tunnel is discovered and one of the men despairs and is shot down rushing the fence in broad daylight.  Stress builds up and some of the men crack.  Finally, the escape is run and disaster occurs.  Seventy-six men get out of the camp and we follow them as they attempt the escape from Germany.  Some make it, some are caught and some are killed.

It is an amazing story.  Even if it were just fiction it would be entertaining.  But knowing it actually happened is mind-boggling.  And the movie is well done.  The plot and dialog are good and sometimes quite compelling.  The actors are sympathetic characters and even some of the Germans come across as interesting humans.

If you like war stories and especially if you like history this is a movie you might want to see.  Highly recommended.