THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE
(John Cassavetes, USA, 1976) 114 minutes
Director: John Cassavetes
Producer: Al Ruban
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Editor: Tom Cornwell
Music: Bo Harwood
Ben Gazzara (Cosmo Vittelli)
Timothy Agoglia Carey (Flo)
Azizi Johari (Rachel)
Meade Roberts (Mr. Sophistication)
Seymour Cassel (Mort Weil)
Reviews and notes
Maybe it's because we all like the child no one else likes: of all my films THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE is one of the ones that interests me the most. Part of the fun was to imagine a self-contained world different from the one I live in; to move into it and live in it."
- John Cassavetes
I think [this] is one of this erratic, irritating but cherishable director's very best films. Set in Los Angeles, where everyone is out to make a buck but almost always kids him or herself that he or she is in fact contributing valuably to life's rich pattern, its central character (Ben Gazzara) is the owner of a sleazy nightclub which specialises in a Gay Paree-type girlie show. He loses at the gaming tables, can't pay up and is blackmailed by mobsters into making a hit for them. He has to kill an elderly Chinese import-export specialist whose power rubs the Mafia up the wrong way.
Cast in the form of a film noir thriller, it is actually a great deal more than that. It discusses, as Cassavetes usually does, the darkening of the American Dream, the tattiness of the reality but the multi-faceted nature of truth which sometimes makes even that crumpled state seem full of hope and glory. It also discusses the relationship of the performer to his audience, which is really the fulcrum of Cassavetes' stubborn resistance to Hollywood and all its works.
The small-time showman's relationship with his girls and the cynical master of ceremonies who manipulates them on stage is shown to be touching and honourable as well as exploitative. His dreams seem not only retrograde and pathetic but brave and affirmative too. In other words, this system cannot wholly destroy the humanity we confront - even that of the ageing monster who comes to kill the showman after he has done tbe murder asked of him.
The film of course has its longeurs, like most Cassavetes movies do. It does not always work as a kind of extemporised but nevertheless carefully rehearsed plunge into the darkness of the soul. But it is superbly performed, amazingly atmospheric and finally very moving during its uncertain end scenes which pitch away from naturalism into a sort of humdrum but implacable poetry. And for all its hesitations it tells you more about America than a hundred more fluent efforts like Kramer v. Kramer
. Cassavetes at his best is a real artist, a true dreamer of dreams.
? Derek Malcolm, The Guardian, 6 April 1980.
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