The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie

John Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara.

I’ve written about the inane argument I had with my father about John Cassavetes. It’s time to write about one of his films, John’s not Lou’s.

The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie was Cassavetes’ first crack at a neo-noir film as a writer-director. He’d acted in several pulp fiction type movies; mostly notably Don Siegel’s 1964 version of The Killers. In the mid-Seventies, Cassavetes decided to make a gangster film starring his friend and frequent collaborator Ben Gazzara.

Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli the charming albeit sleazy owner of a LA strip club. In addition to running his club, Gazzara loves to gamble. That leaves him in debt to some Angelino wise guys who insist that he repay the debt by whacking-you guessed it-a Chinese bookie. The whole thing is a set-up for the mobsters to take over his joint, The Crazy Horse West.

The production history of The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie is as interesting as the film itself. A 135 minute version was previewed in 1976 to a catastrophic reaction. It was yanked out of release then edited and tightened up by Cassavetes for release in 1978. The final running time was 108 minutes.

Cassavetes made realistic movies with an art house flair. The 1976 release of The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie was slow and rambling. The 1978 version starts slowly but picks up steam. Cassavetes’ cuts made a major difference.

The movie re-opened to mostly good reviews in 1978, but like most of my countryman’s work did etsi-ketsi business at the box office. Etsi-ketsi is Greek for so-so.

The main thing the movie has going for it is Ben Gazzara’s bravura performance as the doomed strip club owner. Cosmo Vitelli is more interested in programming his club’s show than in flesh peddling. He’s an artist whose art form is The Crazy Horse West. Strange but true.

The show features a bizarre emcee and bad singer known as Mr. Sophistication. Why? I’ll never know.

Grading Time: I give The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie 3 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B. Both the 1976 and 1978 versions are currently streaming on MAX.

It’s poster time. We begin with two half-sheets side by side. The phone booth scene is one of the highlights of the movie. Stay tuned.

Next up, the hand lettered quad poster:

Are you ready to play follow the leader?

Now that we’ve paraded with popcorn, it’s lobby card time.

My stock joke about color pictures for black and white films is flipped on its head. These lobby cards feature black and white pictures for a color film. John Cassavetes marched to the beat of his own drummer.

Now that we’ve seen Mr. Sophistication, strippers, and a dog, it’s trailer time.

I mentioned the phone booth scene as a highlight. This is it:

The last word goes to Ben Gazzara:




























‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’: Turning Entertainment into Personal Statement

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