Film Review: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: The Fury (1978)

Release Date: March 10th, 1978
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: John Farris
Based on: The Fury by John Farris
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Andrew Stevens, Fiona Lewis, William Finley, Dennis Franz, Gordon Jump, Daryl Hannah

Frank Yablans Presentations, Twentieth Century Fox, 118 Minutes

Review:

“…and what a culture can’t assimilate, it destroys.” – Dr. Jim McKeever

The Fury is a movie that I haven’t seen in a really, really long time. I’m talking, late night on cable when cable was still cool… that’s how long.

Also, I never saw it in its entirety from start-to-finish. I always kind of caught it in the middle and it’d be at times where I had to fight to stay awake in hopes of finishing it.

Having now watched it in its entirety for the first time without fighting sleep, I’ve got to say that it’s damn good and it just solidifies the greatness of Brian De Palma, especially in his early days.

This feels like a natural extension of some of the concepts De Palma worked with in Carrie but it isn’t bogged down by Stephen King-isms and it’s a hell of a lot cooler and expands on those concepts in a bigger way, as we now see psychic powered youngsters being abducted and turned into psychic super weapons.

The film stars two actors that are absolute fucking legends: Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes.

Douglas plays the hero character, trying to save his son, who has been abducted and turned into an evil psychic killing machine. All the while, Douglas is trying to save a young girl from the same fate.

Cassavetes, who just does sinister so well, plays the main antagonist who betrays Douglas and tries to have him murdered so that he can abduct his psychic son and brainwash him while honing his skills. Cassavetes mostly succeeds in the opening of the film but doesn’t realize that Douglas survived the orchestrated assassination attempt.

The real highlight of the film for me was the big finale and the moments that led up to it, which saw the psychic son unleash his powers in twisted and fucked up ways. The special effects used here were simple, practical and incredibly effective.

There were a lot of psychic power horror flicks in the ’70s and ’80s but The Fury is certainly one of the best of the lot. If this type of stuff is your bag, you definitely should give it a watch.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s psychic horror movies, as well as Brian De Palma’s other horror and thriller films.

Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

Film Review: The Incubus (1982)

Release Date: August 27th, 1982
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: George Franklin
Based on: The Incubus by Ray Russell
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: John Cassavetes, John Ireland

Multicom Entertainment Group Inc., Artists Releasing Corporation, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Incubus is a film I found out about while reading one of Joe Bob Brigg’s Drive-In books. Strangely, this film alluded me in my childhood, as I pillaged the aisles of every video store within the boundaries of the continental United States.

It stars John Cassavetes who has been in much better things than this sort of movie. However, he adds a real sense of legitimacy to this film, even if it doesn’t have much going for it.

The story sees a bunch of women getting raped and murdered and while this is happening a teenage boy has horrible nightmares tied to the crimes. There is a lot more to the boy’s relation to these crimes than just simply dreaming, however. Cassavetes takes it upon himself to solve the mystery but his teenage daughter is put in danger’s way. Ultimately, the monster here is a demonic incubus but how it all comes together is fairly interesting and well executed.

This is a decently frightening picture, due to its subject matter and its visuals. The film feels a bit surreal at times but that is partly due to some of the great shots from the director. There is a really cool tracking shot where the camera is under a wheelchair moving through a house in a first person point-of-view. When the wheelchair arrives at a door, the girl in the chair can’t see the horror on the other side but the audience, peering under the crack of the door, can see what the girl in the wheelchair can’t.

The Incubus is a good film for what it is. The special effects are sub par but the film creates real suspense and dread and it builds a strong and effective atmosphere. The tone of The Incubus is perfect.

The movie also benefits from the fact that it isn’t as predictable as films like this tend to be.

The Incubus is a film that is better than it was probably intended to be. And somehow, it stayed under the radar. But this was the early 80s when horror films were a dime a dozen.

Rating: 6/10