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John Cassavetes takes a contemporary film noir turn (which he would return to in Gloria) after exploring domestic melodrama in A Woman Under the Influence with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, the owner of a sleazy Los Angeles strip joint, who loses $20,000 at a mob gambling club owned by a small time gangster (Seymour Cassel). Since Cosmo doesn't have the $20,000, he is forced to murder a Chinese bookie in order to clear his debt to the mob. What Cosmo doesn't know is he's part of a set-up. The bookie is actually a West Coast mob boss protected around the clock by bodyguards. The mobsters figure that Cosmo will be killed in an impossible hit and they can take over his nightclub. But Cosmo proves luckier than the mobsters think -- he manages to kill his target, and now the mobsters have to track down Cosmo and kill him. Initially, at 133 minutes, the movie was subsequently re-edited by Cassavetes to 109 minutes. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi
Cosmo Vitelli is the owner of a strip club on the sunset strip in Los Angeles, and his business is slow. He's an ex-New Yorker who's re-located to L.A. and is trying to be a big shot, only he doesn't seem to get much respect, but boy, there sure is an air of impending doom surrounding the guy. He goes to the casino of a fellow club owner and tries to be a bigshot in front of his girls, but winds up with a $23,000 debt to what is clearly a mob family. In order to forgive his debt, they want him to kill a chinese bookie they claim owes them money. All is not as it seems to be though, neither with the set-up nor Cosmo Vitelli himself. The film itself isn't directed in a very accessible way, there's lots of random close-ups and off camera dialogue, but it is engrossing (it seems to slightly imitate the Scorsese style, and not just because of the gangster element). Anyway, since when does art always have to be assessible? The soundtrack is near barren, almost the only time music is heard is when the characters on the screen are hearing it. All Cosmo wants to do is run his nightclub and it seems he'll do anything to keep things normal. Perhaps even something crazy as he may be crazier than he let's on. There's more to this low budget crime drama than suspected at first as well.
[font=Century Gothic]In "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," Cosmo Vitelli(Ben Gazzara) is the owner of the Crazy Horse West, modeled after the legendary Parisian nightspot, that is empty of customers until Mort Weil(Seymour Cassel) brings in three carloads of new customers one night. Cosmo, being a compulsive gambler, is immensely interested in visiting Mort's poker club in Santa Monica. When he does, he brings along three of his dancers as dates. Things go badly for Cosmo when he loses $23,000 in a single night and demonstrates an inability to pay.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is a deeply cynical and downbeat character study that has less to do with Cosmo or the plot, such as it is, than with a depiction of Los Angeles(and symbolically Hollywood) as a gilded nightmare where women are exploited as decorative features. This is a city without a heart(or if you will a real downtown) and where driving directions are longer than some books. Like Cosmo, writer-director John Cassavetes was originally from New York and there is a current of homesickness that runs through the movie. Even though he runs a glorified strip joint, Cosmo does his best to bring class to the city and the orchids are a nice touch. But he errs badly when he is awed by Mort's gang when he should definitely know better.[/font] [font=Century Gothic][/font] [font=Century Gothic]Note: This review is for the 135 minute version.[/font]
John Cassavetes' gritty arthouse neo-noir is one of those films that you can immediately tell has influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. With its dark atmosphere, electric camerawork and improvisational directing style, "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is less a straightforward drama about betrayal than it is a meditation on the life of a man coming to terms with being set up. Ben Gazzara gives his most naturalistic performance as Cosmo Vitelli, the likable, aging club owner. "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is hard to get into at first due to its detached, abstract style, but if you stick with it, you'll find yourself really involved.
Not a movie, but a film, a piece of art, rather than an entertainment, which apparently gives license to bore the viewer. Gulfs of silence, studied close-up shots, a profusion of minor character details that add up to what? Nothing interesting. Unfortunately I put in the original 1976 cut, clocking in at 135 minutes. I could have saved myself the half hour of tone-deaf singing in the strip show and probably the lion's share of meaningful silent close-ups.
People say director Cassavetes wanted audiences to work, and I get that, but I find it off-putting to do ALL the work. Ben Gazarra is terrific as a club owner behind the eight-ball, but I would have appreciated him more if I wasn't trying to work out the plot all the time. Cassavetes works without establishing shots or master shots. Like being thrown into the deep end of a pool, we the audience are thrown into scenes without warning, and it's up to us to sink or swim. Who is this guy he's giving money to? What's he doing at this bar, looking pathetic? Did he get shot back there? If so, why isn't he limping? While my mind is grasping for character motivation and plot points, I'm missing the movie. I picked this movie to see of the George Eastman House's Cassavetes series because it sounded the most action driven, but it's still essentially a character piece. Sure, there's some gun play and a good chase scene, but they don't pay off in the traditional way. I was reminded of Scorcese's Mean Streets and Who's that Knockin, but those character pieces had more bravado and fun characters to grab onto.