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The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

Here’s Steve McQueen at the peak of his powers in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), a film centering on a marathon, high stakes poker game set in the Depression-era 1930s, directed by Norman Jewison. It’s not a great film by any means, but a solid period piece of 1960s genre work, with a powerhouse cast:  McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Joan Blondell, Rip Torn and veteran musician/actor Cab Calloway. As Kevin Hagopian notes, the script is by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern; it was Lardner’s first major studio work since his 1947 blacklisting as one of The Hollywood Ten.

Sam Peckinpah was supposed to direct the film, but wanted to shoot it in black and white, among other things, and was forced out by producer Martin Ransohoff soon after shooting started, leaving it to Jewison to finish. It’s a resolutely commercial film, but McQueen is riveting to watch, and as he always maintained, he’s better at reacting than acting; Robinson, McQueen’s chief opponent, more than holds his own against McQueen in all their scenes together — which really are the bulk of the picture — and handles most of the dialogue. Despite a certain predictability — even with its supposed “twist” finish — the film is better than average mainstream entertainment, and one of the best poker films ever made.

You can view a clip from the film here, or by clicking on the image above.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or Visit him at his website,

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