The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Killing-Chinese-Bookie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Cassavetes
Produced by Al Ruban
Written by John Cassavetes
Starring Ben Gazzara
Timothy Agoglia Carey
Seymour Cassel
Music by Bo Harwood
Cinematography Mitchell Breit
Al Ruban
Edited by Tom Cornwell
Distributed by Faces Distribution
Release dates
  • February 15, 1976 (1976-02-15)
Running time 135 minutes
108 minutes (Re-release)
Country United States
Language English

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a 1976 American art and crime film directed and written by John Cassavetes and starring Ben Gazzara.[1][2][3][4][5] A rough and gritty film, the formidable character Gazzara plays was based on an impersonation he did for his friend Cassavetes in the 1970s. This is the second of their three collaborations, following Husbands and preceding Opening Night.

Plot[edit]

The film, set in California, opens with Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) making the final payment on a longstanding gambling debt to a sleazy loanshark (played by the film's producer Al Ruban). To celebrate his long-anticipated freedom, strip club owner Vittelli has an expensive night out with his three favorite dancers ("Margo", "Rachael" and "Sherry"). The evening culminates in a poker game in which Vittelli loses $23,000, returning him to the debtor's position he had just left. Using the debt as leverage, his mob creditors coerce him into agreeing to perform a "hit" on a rival. Vittelli is led to believe that his target is a small-time criminal of minor consequence, the Chinese bookie of the film's title; but in fact, he is the boss of the Chinese mafia, "the heaviest cat on the West Coast." Vittelli manages to kill the man and several of his bodyguards, but is severely wounded before escaping.

In addition to the potentially fatal gunshot wound he sustains, Vittelli comes to realize that his assignment was a set-up: that his mob employers double-crossed him and had no expectation he would survive his debut as a hitman. Forced into a corner again, Vittelli manages to kill or elude his assailants, but the film ends with no indication of whether Vittelli will survive his ordeal, as the show at his club goes on.

Cast[edit]

Release[edit]

The film's original release, at 135 minutes in length, was a commercial disappointment and the film was pulled from distribution after only seven days. At a May 17, 2008 George Eastman House screening in Rochester, Ben Gazzara said he 'hated' the original cut; 'it's too long', he told Cassavetes.

Eventually, Cassavetes decided to re-edit the film, and it was re-released in 1978 in a new 108-minute cut. The 1978 version is the one that has been in general release since that time, though both versions of the film were issued in The Criterion Collection's John Cassavetes: Five Films box set, marking the first appearance of the 1976 version since its original release.

True to Cassavetes' form, the 108-minute version is not just a simple edit of the 135-minute version. The order of several scenes has been changed, there are different edits of a few scenes, and there are a few segments unique to the 108-minute version. The bulk of the cutting in the 1978 version removed many of the nightclub routines that were in the 1976 version.

Reception[edit]

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie received mixed reviews upon its initial release. Jay Cocks of Time gave the film a positive review, explaining, "When John Cassavetes makes a gangster movie, you can be sure only that it will be like no other. A film maker of vaunting, demanding individuality, Cassavetes is like a jazz soloist, an improviser who tears off on wild riffs from a basic, familiar melody."[6] Vincent Canby of The New York Times thought differently, saying, "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is like the last three of the director's films (A Woman Under the Influence, Husbands and Minnie and Moskowitz) in the way it resolutely refuses to come to a point strong or interesting enough to support the loving care that's gone into its production, particularly on the part of the actors."[7]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 77% of 22 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.4 out of 10.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Carney, Ray (Spring 1991). "The Dangers of Systematic Explanations (and the Imaginative Movements They Leave Out)". Ray Carney's Website. Excerpted from a Review of David James, Allegories Of Cinema, Printed in American Studies (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas), Volume 32, Number 1, pp. 123–124. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Carney, Ray (1994). The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 230–231. 
  3. ^ Brenner, Paul. "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: Overview: Allmovie". Allmovie. Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Lopate, Phillip. "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: The Raw and the Cooked". Criterion. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 
  5. ^ Hardy, Phil (1997). The BFI Companion to Crime. University of California Press. p. 192. ISBN 0520215389. Retrieved December 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ Cocks, Jay (March 8, 1976). "Cinema: On the Edge – The Killing of a Chinese Bookie". Time. Time Inc. 
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 16, 1976). "'Chinese Bookie': Cassavetes Is Director of Bland Effort". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved June 9, 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 9, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]