The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

R | 135 mins | Film noir, Drama | 1976

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HISTORY

A 20 Apr 1976 Var news item indicates that the film’s closing music credits are unclear, as Anthony Harris is credited as “Music conductor/Arranger” and Bo Harwood is credited as "Music/Sound.” According to the news item, Faces Distribution Corp. holds that the music credit belongs to Bo Harwood, not Anthony Harris. The credited character name for the role performed by actor Ben Gazzara, “Cosmo Vittelli,” is spelled “Cosmo Vitello” in press and publicity materials. Producer Al Ruban is also credited with the role of “Marty Reitz,” the loan shark.
       In a Jun 1978 interview in Monthly Film Bulletin , John Cassavetes explains that he and director Martin Scorsese came up with the idea of the film years before it went into production, and that he eventually wrote the script just two weeks before shooting began. Scorsese is not credited onscreen.
       According to a 28 Jan 1976 HR news item, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was set to open 15 Feb at Mann’s Village Theatre in Westwood, CA, and Cinema I and II in New York City. Over one hundred theaters were booked for première engagements. The film was released to predominately negative reviews, however, and had poor showings at the box office. Although the film was scheduled to play at the Gopher Theatre in Minneapolis, the deal, which required a $15,000 advance and a $10,000 guarantee to Faces International, was cancelled when West Coast and New York engagements showed meager ticket sales. Var reported on 14 Feb 1976 that because the film was unable to attract commercial bookings in Minneapolis, Faces ... More Less

A 20 Apr 1976 Var news item indicates that the film’s closing music credits are unclear, as Anthony Harris is credited as “Music conductor/Arranger” and Bo Harwood is credited as "Music/Sound.” According to the news item, Faces Distribution Corp. holds that the music credit belongs to Bo Harwood, not Anthony Harris. The credited character name for the role performed by actor Ben Gazzara, “Cosmo Vittelli,” is spelled “Cosmo Vitello” in press and publicity materials. Producer Al Ruban is also credited with the role of “Marty Reitz,” the loan shark.
       In a Jun 1978 interview in Monthly Film Bulletin , John Cassavetes explains that he and director Martin Scorsese came up with the idea of the film years before it went into production, and that he eventually wrote the script just two weeks before shooting began. Scorsese is not credited onscreen.
       According to a 28 Jan 1976 HR news item, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was set to open 15 Feb at Mann’s Village Theatre in Westwood, CA, and Cinema I and II in New York City. Over one hundred theaters were booked for première engagements. The film was released to predominately negative reviews, however, and had poor showings at the box office. Although the film was scheduled to play at the Gopher Theatre in Minneapolis, the deal, which required a $15,000 advance and a $10,000 guarantee to Faces International, was cancelled when West Coast and New York engagements showed meager ticket sales. Var reported on 14 Feb 1976 that because the film was unable to attract commercial bookings in Minneapolis, Faces International allowed the film to be played at the University Film Society instead of local theaters.
       In 1978, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was re-released after Cassavetes edited the film from 135 minutes to 108 minutes, but the film still did not achieve commercial success.



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Stuart Collier, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
20 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1976
p. 3, 11.
Los Angeles Times
17 Feb 1976
p. 1.
New York Times
16 Feb 1976
p. 28.
Variety
14 Apr 1976.
---
Variety
18 Feb 1976
p. 35.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Al Ruban Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam op
Cinemobile op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
In charge of lighting
Lighting crew
Lighting crew
Lighting crew
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Graphics/Stills
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set const
Set const
Set const
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Sd/Mus
Mus cond/Arranger
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd
PRODUCTION MISC
In charge of post prod
Post prod consultant
Prod secy
Scr supv
Accounting
Dir's secy
Loc equip
DETAILS
Release Date:
1976
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 15 February 1976
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
MGM Labs
Duration(in mins):
135
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Strip club owner Cosmo Vittelli makes the last payment on a seven-year gambling debt to a loan shark named Marty. Later, at his club on the Sunset Strip, the Crazy Horse West, Cosmo chats with performers in preparation for the night’s show. As customers arrive, Cosmo meets Mort Weil, owner of a Santa Monica gambling club, who compliments Cosmo on the Crazy Horse West and explains to his friends that Cosmo stages and choreographs all of the shows. Eager to gamble again, Cosmo treats Mort and his guests to the best seats in the house as the club’s performers, Mr. Sophistication and his De-Lovelies, begin the show. The following day, Cosmo is escorted by his favorite dancers, Sherry, Margo and Rachel, to Mort’s Ship Ahoy club, and he runs up a $23,000 gambling debt in a poker game. Although Cosmo insists he is good for the money over time, Mort’s partners force Cosmo to sign over the Crazy Horse West as collateral. Troubled over how to retain his business and resolve the debt, Cosmo drops the girls off at their homes. At an outdoor café across the street from the Crazy Horse West, Cosmo meets a waitress who is eager to audition. At first reluctant, Cosmo accompanies her back to the club and lets her perform for him. During her audition, Cosmo’s girlfriend, Rachel, enters the club as the young woman reveals her breasts to Cosmo and Rachel creates a violent scuffle in a fit of jealousy. As Cosmo restrains Rachel, the waitress retrieves her clothes and leaves half-dressed. That night, Mr. Sophistication and the De-Lovelies perform a Paris-themed show based ... +


Strip club owner Cosmo Vittelli makes the last payment on a seven-year gambling debt to a loan shark named Marty. Later, at his club on the Sunset Strip, the Crazy Horse West, Cosmo chats with performers in preparation for the night’s show. As customers arrive, Cosmo meets Mort Weil, owner of a Santa Monica gambling club, who compliments Cosmo on the Crazy Horse West and explains to his friends that Cosmo stages and choreographs all of the shows. Eager to gamble again, Cosmo treats Mort and his guests to the best seats in the house as the club’s performers, Mr. Sophistication and his De-Lovelies, begin the show. The following day, Cosmo is escorted by his favorite dancers, Sherry, Margo and Rachel, to Mort’s Ship Ahoy club, and he runs up a $23,000 gambling debt in a poker game. Although Cosmo insists he is good for the money over time, Mort’s partners force Cosmo to sign over the Crazy Horse West as collateral. Troubled over how to retain his business and resolve the debt, Cosmo drops the girls off at their homes. At an outdoor café across the street from the Crazy Horse West, Cosmo meets a waitress who is eager to audition. At first reluctant, Cosmo accompanies her back to the club and lets her perform for him. During her audition, Cosmo’s girlfriend, Rachel, enters the club as the young woman reveals her breasts to Cosmo and Rachel creates a violent scuffle in a fit of jealousy. As Cosmo restrains Rachel, the waitress retrieves her clothes and leaves half-dressed. That night, Mr. Sophistication and the De-Lovelies perform a Paris-themed show based on a crude rendition of the standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” When Mort and his associates arrive outside, they order Cosmo to kill Harold Ling, a Chinese bookie, to repay his debt. On a subsequent evening, Mort returns to the Crazy Horse West to express disappointment that Cosmo has not yet found the bookie. He hands Cosmo over to Flo, one of his gang, who roughs him up and makes it clear the job must be done that evening. Mort’s gang gives Cosmo a gun, a car, directions and a key to the Chinese bookie’s house. They also accidentally reveal that the bookie’s real name is Benny Wu, raising Cosmo’s suspicions. After they explain that the bookie’s house is guarded and booby-trapped, the men give Cosmo a receipt for the $23,000 he owes them and encourage him to tear it up, proving that the hit will cancel his debt. On the freeway heading to Wu’s house, the tire on Cosmo’s car blows out but he finds a payphone and calls a cab, then checks in on the performance at the Crazy Horse West. The cab takes Cosmo to a restaurant where, as instructed, he picks up hamburgers to distract the guard dogs at Wu’s home. Making his way to the bookie’s room, Cosmo finds Wu naked in his spa. As Cosmo takes aim at the old man, Wu confesses that he has been a bad person and tells Cosmo he is sorry. After killing Wu, Cosmo shoots several bodyguards and makes a run for it. As Cosmo escapes, another bodyguard shoots him in the back. Cosmo takes a bus, then several cabs to Rachel’s house, where he collapses on the bed. Rachel’s mother, Betty, whom Cosmo calls “Mom,” tends to his wound, but she refuses his request to call a cab to take him to the club. Meanwhile, Mort runs into the loan shark, Marty, at a restaurant. Marty informs his dinner party that a radio broadcast reported a bloodbath at Wu’s house. Mort excuses himself and walks to a nearby table where Marty has joined his own party and whispers an inaudible message in his ear. At another table, Mort tells Flo the news of Wu’s death and orders Flo to kill Cosmo. Later, back at the Crazy Horse West, Mr. Sophistication sings an a cappella version of Frank Sinatra’s “Imagination” as the dancers flaunt their bodies. Cosmo sits with Flo, who suggests that Cosmo come along with him to meet his friends so he can tell them about the killing, but Cosmo says that he is not feeling well. When Rachel approaches their table, bare-chested, Cosmo tells her that he is going to buy her a diamond ring and asks her to tell him that she loves him. Flo then drives Cosmo to an empty parking garage and admits that Cosmo is a nice guy. When Cosmo inquires where his friends are, Flo reflects that Marx confused religion for money as the opium of the masses, and Cosmo encourages Flo to leave. As Flo exits the garage, he passes Mort and tells him that Cosmo is his friend and that it is Mort’s responsibility to “take care of him.” Mort apologizes to Cosmo, explaining that the so-called “bookie,” Wu, was actually the biggest gang lord on the West Coast and Cosmo was set up to perform a task that Mort’s men found impossible accomplish. A car enters the garage and Phil, another member of Mort’s gang, sets out after Cosmo with a gun. Although Mort says that he can help shelter Cosmo, he calls to Phil for backup and Cosmo shoots Mort dead. Phil searches the garage and threatens to kill Cosmo, but Cosmo makes it out alive, shows up at Rachel and Betty’s house and asks why Rachel isn’t at the show. When he assures them he is not dying, Betty asks to speak to him privately. As Cosmo rambles about his own mother, he admits that he doesn’t know where she is and tells Betty that she is wonderful, but Betty says that Cosmo is no longer welcome to live with her and Rachel because she is not strong enough to deal with him. Back at the Crazy Horse West, Cosmo talks to the performers in their dressing room and encourages them to take the stage, but they ask what has become of Rachel. Cosmo explains that she has moved on to a new job then inquires about what is troubling them. Mr. Sophistication laments that he feels underappreciated, but Cosmo attempts to raise everyone’s spirits by suggesting that each person has their own truths and sense of happiness. Cosmo confesses that he is only happy when he is angry, or when he is playing the role of a person that others want him to be. He encourages the troupe to take on their theatrical personalities so that those in the audience can escape their troubles and also pretend to be who they are not. Cosmo takes the stage tells the audience they are running late because Rachel has left and confesses to the crowd that he loved her. Cosmo walks outside and observes blood dripping from his bullet wound as the dancers parade topless on stage and Mr. Sophistication fiercely croons “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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