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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

August 13, 2010

606. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Directed by John Cassevetes
USA, 1976

IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


Strip joint owner Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) amasses huge gambling debts in a mob-run casino, and is forced to pay them off by becoming a reluctant hitman.

Essential Scene:

Cosmo, having survived his mission and the ensuing attempt on his life, returns to his club to introduce the evening’s shoddy entertainment. As the bizarrely made-up Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts) performs “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” a cappella, the strippers dance seductively around him. Meanwhile Cosmo steps out onto the street, his pocket filling with blood from the bullet wound he has hidden from his friends.


John Cassevetes’s loose, improvisational style is a taste I have yet to acquire. What could be a gripping noir-ish tale of mobsters, murder and double-crossing seems to lose momentum in its long stretches of documentary-style observation. The film has an unexpectedly melancholy air, which is especially effective if you read Cosmo as an analogy for Cassavetes himself; an innovative director who reluctantly took Hollywood acting roles to subsidize his independent films. If the alternative 109-minute cut tightens some of the slack, I can imagine myself enjoying it much more than the 135-minute cut I saw.

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