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Cosmo Vitelli owns the Crazy Horse West, a strip joint in Los Angeles. He's laconic, vet, and a gambler. When we meet him, he's making his last payment on a gambling debt, after which, he promptly loses $23,000 playing poker. The guys he owes this time aren't so friendly, pressuring him for immediate payment. When he's not able to do so, they suggest he kill a Chinese bookie to wipe away his debt. Vitelli and the film move back and forth between the double-crossing, murderous insincerity of the gamblers and the friendships, sweetness, and even love among Vitelli, the dancers, a dancer's mother, and the club's singer, Mr. Sophistication.Written by
The name of the Californian strip-joint nightclub in Los Angeles was "The Crazy Horse West". See more »
My mother was very funny. Had a great sense of humor. Yeah, that's right. She was so funny, she ran off with this big, fat butcher.
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-The opening. The 1976 version opens with the credit sequence, in the style of an Asian movie, and then cutting to Cosmo following a loan shark to the back. The 1978 version opens with the "it'll pick up" scene, then cutting to much more western style opening credits, and then showing him arriving to meet the loan shark
-The 1978 version removes all the stage performance scenes, which accounts for at least 15 minutes of the movie
-The 1978 version includes an additional scene showing the gangster extorting a couple before they see Cosmo.
-In the 1978 version, Cosmo's meeting with the gangsters is extended. This is where we learn Cosmo was in the Korean war. It also explains why Cosmo is out with the girls in the next scene.
-The 1978 version cuts out most of the bits involving Cosmo picking up the girls to go to the club, including meeting with families and talking to one of them in the limo.
-The 1978 version cuts out an early scene of Cosmo in the dressing room with Mr Sophistication and the girls. See more »
A film like John Cassavetes' "The Killing of A Chinese Bookie" is one of those films that Roger Ebert often says "either grabs you or leaves you". This one grabbed me. It is perhaps the least liked film of the precious few Cassavetes wrote and directed, but it's an honest film that doesn't pull any punches. It's kind of a predecessor to "Goodfellas" and "Casino".
While Cassavetes' film lacks the polish of the two Scorsese films, I think that benefits "Killing". This is not a glossy, "high-concept" film that Hollywood prefers (although Scorsese is certainly not "high-concept"); it is a rough, confusing muddle and that is probably one of the reasons the film remains highly unseen by a great many people. However, I like rough, confusing films and one of the great pleasures is trying to figure everything out. The beauty of a John Cassavetes film is that there are no easy answers and he likes you to make your own reading on the film.
As always with a Cassavetes film, he gives juicy parts to his regulars. Ben Gazzara is excellent as Cosmo Vitelli, the nightclub owner who needs to perform the title deed to save his club. Seymour Cassel gives a strong performance as a friend of Cosmo. Cassel and Gazarra are two of those actors whose names you won't recognize, but when you see their faces, you'll recognize them. They love to take risks with their performances and you can see the payoffs for yourselves.
After a half-assed release by Buena Vista in 1989, "Killing of A Chinese Bookie" is finally available on tape and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The transfer is clean and looks great and the letterbox presentation shows that Cassavetes knew how to use his camera, even if the aspect ratio is small.
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