The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

“I’ve got a golden life. Got the world by the balls. That’s right, I’m great … I am amazing.” Brilliantly directed by John Cassavetes, this gritty and offbeat crime film features Ben Gazzara, who delivers a fascinating performance as “Cosmo Vitelli,” the proud, self-destructive Korean War veteran and owner of a sleazy California strip club called Crazy Horse West. To celebrate the final payment of a gambling debt, Cosmo gathers a trio of strippers, goes out and promptly runs up a $23,000 loss during a poker game at a mob-run casino. In order to wipe out the debt, Cosmo is pressured by the gangsters to perform a hit on a low-level Chinese bookie (unbeknownst to him it’s actually the head of the Chinese mafia on the West Coast!). Cosmo will do anything to hold onto his rundown club just as Cassavetes, the so-called “Father of American Independent Cinema,” struggled to maintain his artistic vision throughout the years against all types of outside pressures. It’s true that Cosmo is in total control within the confines of his club but vulnerable whenever he leaves the safety of its confines – at one point remarking to the strip club audience: “My name is Cosmo Vitelli … I’m the owner of this joint. I choose the numbers. I direct them. I arrange them. You have any complaints you just come to me and I’ll throw you right out on your ass.” The great cast includes legendary character actors Timothy Carey and Seymour Cassel (both of whom appeared in Cassavetes’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz), as well as screenwriter Meade Roberts as the rather delusional “Mr. Sophistication.” In addition, the beautiful Azizi Johari, who was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in June 1975, portrays Cosmo’s insecure stripper girlfriend, “Rachel.” The film was originally released with a running time of 135 minutes, edited extensively and re-released in 1978 at 108 minutes. Cassavetes reportedly collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the idea for this film (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie would make a great double feature with Scorsese’s Mean Streets). As with any Cassavetes film, this one is not for all tastes – watch at your own risk! Roberts collaborated with Tennessee Williams on the 1960 film The Fugitive Kind (1960), which was based on Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Orpheus Descending and starred Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu