Poker features in many movies, the best of which are listed below but, on the whole, it has to be said that cinema loves the characters who play the game more than the game itself. Some may complain that A Big Hand for the Little Lady (Cook, 1966) isn’t included, but despite its focus on the game, it frankly isn’t very good. And The Music of Chance (Haas, 1993) has already made it into the 10 Best Books (see page 169).
The Cincinnatti Kid Norman Jewison, 1965 Probably the first film to focus solely on poker and the personalities that inhabit its world, the film fits alongside The Lusty Men (Ray, 1952, rodeo), Somebody Up There Likes Me (Wise, 1958, boxing) and The Hustler (Rossen, 1961, pool), as a study of the psychology of the sportsman, the individual who chooses to put himself under pressure. Steve McQueen is the young tyro, Eric Stoner, who challenges the old pro Lancey Howard, played by Hollywood veteran Edward G. Robinson.
Howard is the best, and Stoner manages to make his way into a high-stakes match against him. In the final scene Stoner is defeated, most improbably, by Howard. Critics, however, complain that if Stoner was as good as the rest of the film suggested, he would never have played his ultimate hand, but the film still portrays the tension of a high-stakes head-to-head battle to showdown. (See pages 162–163). Poker on Stage and Screen
RG to Poker 100-185.indd 177 23/9/05 10:45:30 am 178 The Sting George Roy Hill, 1973 A follow-up vehicle for Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the wake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this film also dwells on period detail, but happily escapes the fate of having a ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ sequence. In fact, Marvin Hamlisch’s arrangements of Scott Joplin’s music created a major revival of interest in ragtime and jazz.
Set in Chicago in 1936, Robert Shaw is Donnie Lonnegan, a tough, no-nonsense man who cheats at the poker game he arranges on his usual train journey. Redford and Newman are conmen who target Lonnegan. Paul Newman plays a drunk, loud fool who irritates Lonnegan with his behaviour at the table. When Lonnegan and his henchman mark Newman with a new deck, Newman cheats and wins the pot.