Guest post by Charles Cole.
It takes a host of iconic figures to help create a new genre. The poker and casino genres definitely had their high points in cinema if you look back at the history of the niches, but the popularity of both has waned somewhat of late.
Some of the more contemporary releases have flopped on a global level, which has caused many film hacks to question whether there is longevity in niches that spawned classics like Casino, Rounders and Oceans 11 over the last two decades. But determining when the casino niche gained its stripes isn’t exactly straightforward. Who was it that brought the first film to the industry that would change the way in which casino-related films were produced?
Arguably one of the first was The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 starring Steve McQueen in the lead role as Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner. Directed by Norman Jewison, it wasn’t long until they were both catapulted into the limelight in the 60s and 70s.
McQueen had already starred in great films such as The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, but his role as Stoner in The Cincinnati Kid seemed to resonate more with people of the same era. Stoner was a young upstart caught in the deep Depression of the 30s and playing poker from bar to bar in order to build up a reputation as the best in town. This was probably the first film to glamorise gambling in casinos to its fullest. Yes, there had been the old John Wayne films that centered round spit-and-sawdust saloons and backstreet gambling dens, but there was an aura of sophistication with the film’s gambling houses and quality of production.
Although many casino games were very popular at the time of release, such as roulette, poker, blackjack and rummy, it was a million miles away from the state of the art technology that is present today. Games are even played on smartphone-friendly websites known as mobile casino, gaming has never been more accessible to anyone of a legal age. Popular games like poker were beginning to be played more often in the United States during the 60s, the era of the The Cincinnati Kid, and alternative forms of the game were being created such as the now universally recognised Texas Hold’em.
Maybe it was the stunning good looks of McQueen that helped elevate the niche above the slew of Western movies that offered their routine takes on casino gaming. One thing is for sure, the film definitely influenced the likes of James Bond and Casino in the way of pacing, composition and strong hero figures. McQueen was the epitome of cool, well dressed, suave and devilishly good looking – there’s no wonder he became such a Hollywood star, and a movie icon revered still to this day.
Here’s a clip from the movie: