It’s well documented that Steve McQueen sported a hefty resentment toward Paul Newman and viewed him as a rival until the day he died. Though McQueen was known for being petty and resentful toward anyone who challenged his position as an actor, McQueen mostly aimed for Paul Newman. Naturally, since Newman was known for his iconic role as Fast Eddie Felson, a pool hustler battling against the one and only Jackie Gleason, a pool master named Minnesota Fats, McQueen followed up with his own version of the film, except with poker, and upped the ante by going up against Edward G. Robinson.
“Cincinnati Kid” is not a better film than “The Hustler” but it’s still a damn good bit of crime neo-noir that packs in all the usual McQueen film tropes, and has a blast trying to topple Newman’s film about billiards. Director Norman Jewison’s film centers on McQueen as “The Kid,” an up and coming dazzling poker player, who wants to challenge and old foe nicknamed “The Man” to a poker game that could decide future dealings in the sport for rivals of both men, many of whom engage in an endless series of blackmail and bribery. All the while “The Kid” wants to prove himself, and is stuck in a plot that could cost him his relationship with his wife.
McQueen has the fortune of starring alongside two incredibly beautiful women, both of whom vie for his loyalty amidst this war among poker champs. On the one side there’s gorgeous platinum blond Tuesday Weld asking for his affections. On the other side there’s the absolutely vivacious red head Ann Margret looking to pound his brains out as the vixen Melba. God, Steve McQueen really did have a hard time in life, didn’t he? Side note: Margret is unbelievably sexy, radiates sex appeal off the screen and is one of the slimiest femme fatales in cinema. Even after enduring a vicious smack on her backside by McQueen, she still looks amazing.
“Cincinnati Kid” while being a damn good McQueen film is also a very engrossing crime thriller where McQueen is able to show his abilities as the inadvertent hero out for his own gain. The great Edward G. Robinson is a show stealer as Lancey Howard, who becomes the center of everyone’s anger and spite. Jewison’s film has a steady and light hearted pace providing a welcome noir atmosphere without the grit and grime of the genre. “Cincinnati Kid” is a brilliant and utterly entertaining McQueen vehicle and one that fans of the actor will enjoy the most.