Friday, October 2, 2015

606. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Running Time: 135 minutes
Directed By: John Cassavetes
Written By: John Cassavetes
Main Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Robert Phillips, Morgan Woodward
Click here to view the trailer


Hey there! It is really great to be back on the blog. As I mentioned before, I had intended to take a week or so away from the blog, as I was on vacation from work last week and was spending some quality time with my wife. I didn't want to have to interrupt our time together for writing reviews or watching movies that I HAD to watch, as opposed to movies that I was just watching for fun. I actually saw a couple REALLY good movies while I was away, but I'll save those for another time. Let's get back down to brass tacks and get this project wrapped up before 2015 comes to a close.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie would be my last John Cassavetes movie, wrapping up a four film salute to the "father of independent cinema". The title of this one alone made it sound incredibly appealing and it starred a fantastic Ben Gazzara as Cosmo Vittelli. The film is a very slllloooooooooooooooow burn of a picture, telling the story of Cosmo - a mildly successful owner of a "joint" that hosts live nude girls nightly, all of whom Gazzaara's Cosmo is mildly to ecstatically in love with. When a stranger shows his face in the joint one night, singing Cosmo's praises, Cosmo starts chatting him up. It turns out that the man's name is Mort (Cassel) and he owns a joint of his own - a gambling joint. He invites Cosmo to check it out sometime, insisting that everything will be "on the house". When Cosmo finally does get around to checking the place out, he ends the night by racking up a $23,000 gambling debt, which he can't pay. Later, Mort and his associates propose a counter offer: since he can't pay, they suggest he kill someone who is "getting in their way" - the Chinese bookie of the title, of course.

The very first time I saw Taxi Driver, I hated it. I just didn't get it and I was probably too young to get a lot of the prostitution business and "adult type" themes that played out. I probably said a lot of the same things about Taxi Driver then, that I'm getting ready to say about The Killing of a Chinese Bookie now - which gives me hope that I'll someday rewatch "Chinese Bookie" and "get it". By "get it", I mean get the hype, not the plot. In fact, the plot is more than easy to follow and truthfully, plot wise, they could've wrapped this puppy up in jig time, probably even qualifying it for short film length. I mean, what's the plot. Guy owns a club, guy gambles too much, guy gets in debt, guy pays off debt by killing. End of story, no harm, no foul. In fact, as I just typed it out there and saw it on the page, I realize that Buffalo '66 is basically a remake of this, with the added plot twists of "guy goes to prison", "guy kidnaps girl" and "guy falls in love". Okay, so maybe it's not a remake at all, but I'd say it definitely inspired Vincent Gallo, hence his casting of Gazzara. Would you believe that we don't even HEAR tell of a "Chinese bookie" until over an hour into the film? It's true. We don't actually see the Chinese bookie until probably close to the ninety minute mark. Wouldn't a more apropos title have been, "The Killer of a Chinese Bookie", since the film works much better as a character study of Cosmo, than anything else.

For my tastes, the burn here was just way too slow. There were SO MANY scenes that could have easily been cut to save time and make the pace a bit more rapid, but were kept in for God knows why. In fact, did anyone else get the feeling that the film was actually directed by horny teenager who just needed to get that "one more shot of boob". I mean, were all the gratuitous tit shots really necessary? Even the scenes where the girls and guy sang on the stage were mildly entertaining at best and easily worthy of the ax.

However, I'll get it to at least the average marker for having an atmosphere that appealed to me and for showcasing the great Ben Gazzara. I actually think that I focused too much on plot here and realized a little too late that it wasn't about the plot, but rather a simple character study of Gazzara's Cosmo. Yes, I believe I watched the movie wrong! Actually, I think this film - and all of John Cassavetes movies actually - are just a little too indy. I feel like Cassavetes is trying way too hard to stand out and go against the grain, that ultimately my opinions on his films are suffering for it. Yes, A Woman Under the Influence was good and has a good shot at getting some sort of spot on the impending TOP 20. But the rest were all huge disappointments for me, clocking in at average, at best. I mean, for God's sake this is an independent crime drama - that has my name written all over it. It's something I'd normally take right to, but it moved along at a snail's pace and, at least on this day, I just didn't have the patience for it.

RATING: 5/10  Slice it right down the middle and call it average. Man, what a HUGE disappointment these movies were and if you were to make a list of the biggest films to disappoint me from THE BOOK, you'd have to call the films of John Cassavetes a four way tie for first place.


October 2, 2015  11:13pm


  1. Hello Andrew, sorry for a gap in replies..a mixture of a tiring work spell, being a bit ill, and then away for a few days.
    I remember this was as being .. OK, but I'm afraid I don't have much to add to the debate. Sorry.

    1. Ray, I was starting to worry. Glad you're back and hope your ill spell has run it's course.


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