The Killing of a Chinese Bookie


2h 15m 1976

Brief Synopsis

A sleazy nightclub manager, in debt to the mob, is pressured to wipe out an underworld power.

Film Details

Also Known As
Killing of a Chinese Bookie
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Crime
Drama
Release Date
1976

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Color
Color

Synopsis

A sleazy nightclub manager, in debt to the mob, is pressured to wipe out an underworld power.

Film Details

Also Known As
Killing of a Chinese Bookie
MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Crime
Drama
Release Date
1976

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Color
Color

Articles

John Cassavetes: 5 Films on DVD


One of the rare American independent mavericks in the 1960s more intent on provoking his viewers with emotional responses rather than extreme images, John Cassavetes paved a distinctly rough-hewn, New York-flavored method of filmmaking whose influence casually infiltrated the cinematic mainstream during the following two decades. Often working as an actor in Hollywood productions to finance his own personal projects, he created a series of true labors of love; even his later years as a director working for major studios produced wholly idiosyncratic works often wildly out of step with what one usually expected to find at a local movie theater.

The early and most historically significant years of Cassavetes' directorial efforts are finally put into context with Criterion's eight-disc, five-film DVD omnibus. While these films were not terribly difficult to see before (in fact, most have been circulated on VHS and DVD under other banners in years past), the absence of any sort of context or filmic Rosetta stone to help viewers appreciate the words and images before them yielding only minimal appreciation for these often challenging works. Now placed in chronological order with hefty, highly accessible supplements, the first twenty years of his output finally clicks into place.

The earliest and simplest of the set, 1959's Shadows offers a freeform rebuttal to the glossy Hollywood depictions of race relations found in films like Imitation of Life and the films of Stanley Kramer. The film centers on a struggling African-American trio of siblings in New York: washed-up jazz performer Hugh (Hugh Hurd), little sister Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), and young punk-in-the-making Bennie (Ben Carruthers). The latter two are distinctly light-skinned enough to pass for white, an opportunity the sexually awakening Lelia uses to date a white man, Tony (Anthony Ray). When Tony discovers his girlfriend's true racial identity, his urge to flee results in a series of hard self-evaluations for each brother and sister.

A free-flowing and striking debut work, Shadows was widely misunderstood during early screenings. Not a traditional "message film," it instead focuses on the emotions and psychological wounds of its characters reflected in the jazzy music and loose intercutting, with the three lives often running in tadem with each other to let viewers draw their own associations. Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio (1.33:1), the film looks considerably better here than in prior incarnations; its rough and gritty texture is still in place but with much more appreciable detail and a film-like texture contributing to its effectiveness. Extras include an 11-minute interview with Goldoni, a 4-minute video chat with associate producer and familiar character actor Seymour Cassel, a 4-minute reel of silent 16mm acting workshop footage with Cassavetes and collaborator Burt Lane, a thorough 11-minute restoration demonstration exploring more than the standard versions included on early Criterion DVDs, a stills gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Incidentally, rumors persisted for years that a "first cut" of the film was completed but pulled due to poor audience response, though as facts later demonstrated, Cassavetes were displeased with some of the footage from the original rough cut and decided to reshoot several key moments. As such, this is the only completed, authorized version in existence; the alternate version is absent here due to the wishes of the Cassavetes estate.

One film that truly does exist in alternate versions is Faces, Cassavetes' 1968 return to personal cinema after a sojourn into Hollywood filmmaking and television production with projects like A Child Is Waiting. Clocking in at over two hours, the film thoroughly burrows into the psyche of insurance executive Richard Forst (The Godfather's John Marley), a barnstorming dynamo at work whose life at home is entirely different. His superficially happy marriage to Maria (Lynn Carlin) comes to an abrupt halt when he demands a divorce in bed; in fact, he has become enraptured with a prostitute, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), who may or may not be a callous gold digger. Meanwhile Maria becomes the prey of Chet (Cassel), a clubgoer who sets his sights on disillusioned married women. The quartet's damaged love lives soon coalesce into a new set of emotional and domestic alliances as each assumes a new face of their own.

A more audacious and confident work than the previous film, Faces offers a devastating and wholly convincing portrait of a marriage dissolving; the fallout is charted in a series of vignettes, shot in stark verite-inspired 16mm, with each performer contributing top-notch work.

Letterboxed at 1.66:1 with anamorphic enhancement, this film has also undergone a sensitive restoration with its original "flaws" still intact. The feature occupies an entire disc by itself, with a second disc housing the supplements. The first offers a full 17-minute alternate opening sequence shown in Toronto but jettisoned from later prints, followed by an episode of the French TV series Cineastes de notre temps dedicated to Cassavetes, running 48 minutes. A new documentary, "Making Faces," covers the making of the film in 41 minutes thanks to interviews with Carlin, Cassel, Rowlands, and cinematographer Al Ruban. Another new supplement, "Light and Shooting the Film," features Ruban again covering the technical approach used to achieve the film's distinct look and camera placement, split into two sections ("Intro and Equipment" and the clip-heavy "Sequence Explanations").

Arguably the most accessible and widely revered of Cassavetes' films, A Woman Under the Influence (1974) followed two outstanding efforts, Husbands (1970) and Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), both absent here as they currently fall under major studio ownership. In a tour de force performance, Rowlands is mentally unstable Mabel Longhetti whose husband, Nick (Peter Falk), loves her despite her madness and tries to put the best public face on their relationship. Their own bond suffers enough strain, but the situation worsens when their children, friends, and parents enter the mix to create a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape.

An even longer and more intense character study, this dynamite showcase for Rowlands and Falk (reunited from Husbands) has lost little of its piercing intensity; rarely do form and content align as well as they do here, with Cassavetes offering a compassionate portrait of a marriage from a vastly different perspective than one might expect. Once again material that could have lent itself to typical TV-movie-of-the-week material is dissected and humanized in a manner that yields increasingly powerful emotional dividends. Fortunately the film is presented here in a dazzling transfer that makes appreciating the film all the easier; no previous version can touch the immaculate color and detail on display here.

In the only audio commentary of the set, camera operator Mike Ferris and sound recordist/composer Bo Harwood offer a technical appraisal of their work on the film; don't expect much actor or auteur revelations, but for anyone interested in indie filmmaking methods, it's a valuable and informative track. Other supplements include new interviews with Rowlands and Falk (recorded together, appropriately enough), a 1975 interview with Cassavetes and film historian Michael Ciment, a hefty stills gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.

By far the most difficult film of the set, 1976's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie delves into seedier territory as strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara), a former war vet and inveterate gambler, is confronted by gangsters over his escalating debt. They offer a trade-off; if Cosmo murders a Chinese bookie on their hit list, his debts will be cleared. Trapped in a sun-drenched California moral hell, Cosmo must decide what to do as he pits his own life against the consequences of his decisions, all against the backdrop of his seedy club, the Crazy Horse West.

Originally released at 135 minutes, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was trimmed down by Cassavetes to 108 minutes; this latter version is the one previously preserved on tape and disc until now. The two-disc version here retains both cuts; the longer one is certainly a tougher slog but contains some nice character moments (particularly from Cassel, all but invisible in the short version) and technical flourishes rewarding for die-hard fans. However, most viewers may be best off starting with the shorter cut, which features the more coherent narrative experience - and the film is certainly daunting enough in its revised form. Carried almost entirely by Gazzara's performance, the film is largely a celebration of atmosphere and quirky supporting characters, etching a dizzying and sometimes upending portrait of California sleaze where each life indeed comes with a price tag attached.

Extras for this feature include a new interview with Gazzara and producer Al Ruban, running 18 minutes, in which the film's production and rocky release history are thoroughly discussed. Another Clement audio interview is present as well, along with a stills gallery. The transfers of the features are slightly different, with the better-preserved final cut looking a bit more burnished and buffed to digital perfection.

The final feature, 1977's Opening Night, offers a very different vehicle for Gena Rowlands as Myrtle Gordon, the crumbling lead diva in the latest play by hard-bitten writer Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell). One night an eager fan, Nancy (Laura Johnson), is struck and killed while chasing Myrtle's car. As the rehearsals begin to deteriorate due to Myrtle's instability, visions of Nancy and personal demons threaten to derail the entire production as the leading lady's soul proves to be incapable of delivering the performance necessary to bring this important new play to life.

A crucial thematic companion piece to A Woman Under the Influence, this film explores the similar theme of insanity within a family (in this case, a theater troupe) within the context of reality vs. illusion as played out in front of and behind the footlights. Never better, Rowlands dives into her performance and delivers a ferocious characterization, prefiguring the iconic turn she was to perform three years later in Cassavetes' most enduring commercial success, Gloria. Only the obtuse nature of the game-playing within the story might force some viewers to keep Opening Night at bay; it's not as difficult as Chinese Bookie but certainly doesn't play well for casual, half-interested viewing.

Again boasting a gorgeous anamorphic transfer, Opening Night boasts another fine set of extras. Rowlands and Gazzara appear for a 22-minute interview, offering their own recollections about Cassavettes' state of mind during this, one of the most volatile periods from his career. Other extras include a new 7-minute interview with Ruban, a Ciment/Cassavetes audio interview, and two theatrical trailers.

If that's not enough to satisfy your Cassavetes craving, take a deep breath and dive into the final disc, A Constant Forge. Created in 2000, this 200-minute opus by Charles Kiselyak features a comprehensive biographical study of the director/actor and covers each of his projects both realized and idealized. Rowlands and company appear again, delivering somewhat more critical studies of his work with a focus on ethnical and symbolic threads running through his films. As a portrait of a modern American filmmaker, it would be hard to imagine a more thorough and even-handed tribute - even given its epic length that outdoes any of the films themselves! This final disc also contains "Cassavetes Players," a profile of his astonishing stable of acting talent, and a thorough poster gallery. The fold-out boxed set also contains a massive 68-page booklet containing essays and reflections by a host of critics and writers: Gary Giddins, Stuart Klawans, Kent Jones, Philip Lopate, Dennis Lim, Charles Kiselyak, Martin Scorsese, Elaine Kagan, Jonathan Lethemrn and interviews and writings by Cassavetes himself.

For more information about John Cassavetes: 5 Films, visit Criterion Collection. To order John Cassavetes: 5 Films, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson
John Cassavetes: 5 Films On Dvd

John Cassavetes: 5 Films on DVD

One of the rare American independent mavericks in the 1960s more intent on provoking his viewers with emotional responses rather than extreme images, John Cassavetes paved a distinctly rough-hewn, New York-flavored method of filmmaking whose influence casually infiltrated the cinematic mainstream during the following two decades. Often working as an actor in Hollywood productions to finance his own personal projects, he created a series of true labors of love; even his later years as a director working for major studios produced wholly idiosyncratic works often wildly out of step with what one usually expected to find at a local movie theater. The early and most historically significant years of Cassavetes' directorial efforts are finally put into context with Criterion's eight-disc, five-film DVD omnibus. While these films were not terribly difficult to see before (in fact, most have been circulated on VHS and DVD under other banners in years past), the absence of any sort of context or filmic Rosetta stone to help viewers appreciate the words and images before them yielding only minimal appreciation for these often challenging works. Now placed in chronological order with hefty, highly accessible supplements, the first twenty years of his output finally clicks into place. The earliest and simplest of the set, 1959's Shadows offers a freeform rebuttal to the glossy Hollywood depictions of race relations found in films like Imitation of Life and the films of Stanley Kramer. The film centers on a struggling African-American trio of siblings in New York: washed-up jazz performer Hugh (Hugh Hurd), little sister Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), and young punk-in-the-making Bennie (Ben Carruthers). The latter two are distinctly light-skinned enough to pass for white, an opportunity the sexually awakening Lelia uses to date a white man, Tony (Anthony Ray). When Tony discovers his girlfriend's true racial identity, his urge to flee results in a series of hard self-evaluations for each brother and sister. A free-flowing and striking debut work, Shadows was widely misunderstood during early screenings. Not a traditional "message film," it instead focuses on the emotions and psychological wounds of its characters reflected in the jazzy music and loose intercutting, with the three lives often running in tadem with each other to let viewers draw their own associations. Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio (1.33:1), the film looks considerably better here than in prior incarnations; its rough and gritty texture is still in place but with much more appreciable detail and a film-like texture contributing to its effectiveness. Extras include an 11-minute interview with Goldoni, a 4-minute video chat with associate producer and familiar character actor Seymour Cassel, a 4-minute reel of silent 16mm acting workshop footage with Cassavetes and collaborator Burt Lane, a thorough 11-minute restoration demonstration exploring more than the standard versions included on early Criterion DVDs, a stills gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Incidentally, rumors persisted for years that a "first cut" of the film was completed but pulled due to poor audience response, though as facts later demonstrated, Cassavetes were displeased with some of the footage from the original rough cut and decided to reshoot several key moments. As such, this is the only completed, authorized version in existence; the alternate version is absent here due to the wishes of the Cassavetes estate. One film that truly does exist in alternate versions is Faces, Cassavetes' 1968 return to personal cinema after a sojourn into Hollywood filmmaking and television production with projects like A Child Is Waiting. Clocking in at over two hours, the film thoroughly burrows into the psyche of insurance executive Richard Forst (The Godfather's John Marley), a barnstorming dynamo at work whose life at home is entirely different. His superficially happy marriage to Maria (Lynn Carlin) comes to an abrupt halt when he demands a divorce in bed; in fact, he has become enraptured with a prostitute, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), who may or may not be a callous gold digger. Meanwhile Maria becomes the prey of Chet (Cassel), a clubgoer who sets his sights on disillusioned married women. The quartet's damaged love lives soon coalesce into a new set of emotional and domestic alliances as each assumes a new face of their own. A more audacious and confident work than the previous film, Faces offers a devastating and wholly convincing portrait of a marriage dissolving; the fallout is charted in a series of vignettes, shot in stark verite-inspired 16mm, with each performer contributing top-notch work. Letterboxed at 1.66:1 with anamorphic enhancement, this film has also undergone a sensitive restoration with its original "flaws" still intact. The feature occupies an entire disc by itself, with a second disc housing the supplements. The first offers a full 17-minute alternate opening sequence shown in Toronto but jettisoned from later prints, followed by an episode of the French TV series Cineastes de notre temps dedicated to Cassavetes, running 48 minutes. A new documentary, "Making Faces," covers the making of the film in 41 minutes thanks to interviews with Carlin, Cassel, Rowlands, and cinematographer Al Ruban. Another new supplement, "Light and Shooting the Film," features Ruban again covering the technical approach used to achieve the film's distinct look and camera placement, split into two sections ("Intro and Equipment" and the clip-heavy "Sequence Explanations"). Arguably the most accessible and widely revered of Cassavetes' films, A Woman Under the Influence (1974) followed two outstanding efforts, Husbands (1970) and Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), both absent here as they currently fall under major studio ownership. In a tour de force performance, Rowlands is mentally unstable Mabel Longhetti whose husband, Nick (Peter Falk), loves her despite her madness and tries to put the best public face on their relationship. Their own bond suffers enough strain, but the situation worsens when their children, friends, and parents enter the mix to create a difficult situation from which there seems to be no escape. An even longer and more intense character study, this dynamite showcase for Rowlands and Falk (reunited from Husbands) has lost little of its piercing intensity; rarely do form and content align as well as they do here, with Cassavetes offering a compassionate portrait of a marriage from a vastly different perspective than one might expect. Once again material that could have lent itself to typical TV-movie-of-the-week material is dissected and humanized in a manner that yields increasingly powerful emotional dividends. Fortunately the film is presented here in a dazzling transfer that makes appreciating the film all the easier; no previous version can touch the immaculate color and detail on display here. In the only audio commentary of the set, camera operator Mike Ferris and sound recordist/composer Bo Harwood offer a technical appraisal of their work on the film; don't expect much actor or auteur revelations, but for anyone interested in indie filmmaking methods, it's a valuable and informative track. Other supplements include new interviews with Rowlands and Falk (recorded together, appropriately enough), a 1975 interview with Cassavetes and film historian Michael Ciment, a hefty stills gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. By far the most difficult film of the set, 1976's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie delves into seedier territory as strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara), a former war vet and inveterate gambler, is confronted by gangsters over his escalating debt. They offer a trade-off; if Cosmo murders a Chinese bookie on their hit list, his debts will be cleared. Trapped in a sun-drenched California moral hell, Cosmo must decide what to do as he pits his own life against the consequences of his decisions, all against the backdrop of his seedy club, the Crazy Horse West. Originally released at 135 minutes, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was trimmed down by Cassavetes to 108 minutes; this latter version is the one previously preserved on tape and disc until now. The two-disc version here retains both cuts; the longer one is certainly a tougher slog but contains some nice character moments (particularly from Cassel, all but invisible in the short version) and technical flourishes rewarding for die-hard fans. However, most viewers may be best off starting with the shorter cut, which features the more coherent narrative experience - and the film is certainly daunting enough in its revised form. Carried almost entirely by Gazzara's performance, the film is largely a celebration of atmosphere and quirky supporting characters, etching a dizzying and sometimes upending portrait of California sleaze where each life indeed comes with a price tag attached. Extras for this feature include a new interview with Gazzara and producer Al Ruban, running 18 minutes, in which the film's production and rocky release history are thoroughly discussed. Another Clement audio interview is present as well, along with a stills gallery. The transfers of the features are slightly different, with the better-preserved final cut looking a bit more burnished and buffed to digital perfection. The final feature, 1977's Opening Night, offers a very different vehicle for Gena Rowlands as Myrtle Gordon, the crumbling lead diva in the latest play by hard-bitten writer Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell). One night an eager fan, Nancy (Laura Johnson), is struck and killed while chasing Myrtle's car. As the rehearsals begin to deteriorate due to Myrtle's instability, visions of Nancy and personal demons threaten to derail the entire production as the leading lady's soul proves to be incapable of delivering the performance necessary to bring this important new play to life. A crucial thematic companion piece to A Woman Under the Influence, this film explores the similar theme of insanity within a family (in this case, a theater troupe) within the context of reality vs. illusion as played out in front of and behind the footlights. Never better, Rowlands dives into her performance and delivers a ferocious characterization, prefiguring the iconic turn she was to perform three years later in Cassavetes' most enduring commercial success, Gloria. Only the obtuse nature of the game-playing within the story might force some viewers to keep Opening Night at bay; it's not as difficult as Chinese Bookie but certainly doesn't play well for casual, half-interested viewing. Again boasting a gorgeous anamorphic transfer, Opening Night boasts another fine set of extras. Rowlands and Gazzara appear for a 22-minute interview, offering their own recollections about Cassavettes' state of mind during this, one of the most volatile periods from his career. Other extras include a new 7-minute interview with Ruban, a Ciment/Cassavetes audio interview, and two theatrical trailers. If that's not enough to satisfy your Cassavetes craving, take a deep breath and dive into the final disc, A Constant Forge. Created in 2000, this 200-minute opus by Charles Kiselyak features a comprehensive biographical study of the director/actor and covers each of his projects both realized and idealized. Rowlands and company appear again, delivering somewhat more critical studies of his work with a focus on ethnical and symbolic threads running through his films. As a portrait of a modern American filmmaker, it would be hard to imagine a more thorough and even-handed tribute - even given its epic length that outdoes any of the films themselves! This final disc also contains "Cassavetes Players," a profile of his astonishing stable of acting talent, and a thorough poster gallery. The fold-out boxed set also contains a massive 68-page booklet containing essays and reflections by a host of critics and writers: Gary Giddins, Stuart Klawans, Kent Jones, Philip Lopate, Dennis Lim, Charles Kiselyak, Martin Scorsese, Elaine Kagan, Jonathan Lethemrn and interviews and writings by Cassavetes himself. For more information about John Cassavetes: 5 Films, visit Criterion Collection. To order John Cassavetes: 5 Films, go to TCM Shopping. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

I'm a club owner. I deal in girls.
- Cosmo Vitelli
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.
- Cosmo Vitelli

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States April 1989

Released in United States January 1989

Released in United States July 1989

Released in United States July 27, 1990

Released in United States May 22, 1991

Released in United States May 24, 1990

Released in United States on Video July 21, 1993

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1976

Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 24, 1990.

Shown at Museum of Modern Art (John Cassavetes: From the Archive) in New York City July 1 & 6, 1989.

Shown at Pacific Film Archive (The Films of John Cassavetes) in Berkeley, California July 27, 1990.

Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 25 & 27, 1989.

Formerly distributed by Cine-Source.

Formerly distributed by Faces Distribution Company.

Film was reedited in 1978.

Released in United States January 1989 (Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 25 & 27, 1989.)

Released in United States Winter February 15, 1976

Released in United States April 1989 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Tribute to John Cassavetes: Marathon) April 13-27, 1989.)

Released in United States May 22, 1991 (John Cassavetes Collection; Los Angeles)

Released in United States May 24, 1990 (Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 24, 1990.)

Released in United States July 1989 (Shown at Museum of Modern Art (John Cassavetes: From the Archive) in New York City July 1 & 6, 1989.)

Released in United States on Video July 21, 1993

Released in United States July 27, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (The Films of John Cassavetes) in Berkeley, California July 27, 1990.)