The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie1976

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)



Critic Consensus: Ben Gazzarra gives a grand performance as a hard-pressed debtor with delusions of grandeur in this naturalistic and tense thriller.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Photos

Movie Info

John Cassavetes takes a contemporary film noir turn (which he would return to in Gloria) after exploring domestic melodrama in A Woman Under the Influence with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, the owner of a sleazy Los Angeles strip joint, who loses $20,000 at a mob gambling club owned by a small time gangster (Seymour Cassel). Since Cosmo doesn't have the $20,000, he is forced to murder a Chinese bookie in order to clear his debt to the mob. What Cosmo doesn't know is he's part of a set-up. The bookie is actually a West Coast mob boss protected around the clock by bodyguards. The mobsters figure that Cosmo will be killed in an impossible hit and they can take over his nightclub. But Cosmo proves luckier than the mobsters think -- he manages to kill his target, and now the mobsters have to track down Cosmo and kill him. Initially, at 133 minutes, the movie was subsequently re-edited by Cassavetes to 109 minutes. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

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Ben Gazzara
as Cosmo Vittelli
Meade Roberts
as Mr. Sophistication
Morgan Woodward
as John the Boss
Virginia Carrington
as Betty the Mother
John Kullers
as Eddie "Red" (Gangster)
Al Ruban
as Marty Reitz
Soto Joe Hugh
as The Chinese Bookie
as Haji
Jack Ackerman
as Musical director
Benny Marino
as Sonny Venice
Trisha Pelham
as Waitress
Gene Darcy
as Commodore
Hugo Soto
as The Chinese Bookie
Ben Marino
as Bartender
Val Avery
as Blair Benoit
Catherine Wong
as The Bookie's Girl
Mike Skloot
as Scooper
Frank Buchanan
as Flo's Friend
Jason Kincaid
as Parking Lot Attendant
Frank M. Thomas
as Poker Player
Jack Krupnick
as Poker Player
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Critic Reviews for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (9)

The genre elements are mostly subterfuge because otherwise [Cassavetes would] basically be bleeding on the screen.

March 15, 2019 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

When Cassavetes is really cooking, even the moments that are awkward and forced can become electric.

May 3, 2013 | Full Review…

With a heavily improvised script Cassavetes gets the most from his actors, each giving emotive performances.

May 3, 2013 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

John Cassavetes, who made much of his money performing in action films, put that experience to work as the director of this hard, brooding crime drama

May 3, 2013

There's no cinematography credit, which suggests Cassavetes either added that hat to his writer-director wardrobe, or the real culprit left town ahead of the posse.

July 7, 2010 | Full Review…

It's rather like a shaggy dog story operating inside a chase movie. Chinese Bookie is the more insouciant, involuted and unfathomable of the two; the curdled charm of Gazzara's lopsided grin has never been more to the point.

February 9, 2006

Audience Reviews for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

An offbeat but unique take on the noir genre keys that might seem to go nowhere most of the time and yet brings some freshness and bravado.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer


Gazzara is amazing. But the real star is Cassavete's direction. The way this film slowly transforms is amazing.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

Cosmo Vitelli is the owner of a strip club on the sunset strip in Los Angeles, and his business is slow. He's an ex-New Yorker who's re-located to L.A. and is trying to be a big shot, only he doesn't seem to get much respect, but boy, there sure is an air of impending doom surrounding the guy. He goes to the casino of a fellow club owner and tries to be a bigshot in front of his girls, but winds up with a $23,000 debt to what is clearly a mob family. In order to forgive his debt, they want him to kill a chinese bookie they claim owes them money. All is not as it seems to be though, neither with the set-up nor Cosmo Vitelli himself. The film itself isn't directed in a very accessible way, there's lots of random close-ups and off camera dialogue, but it is engrossing (it seems to slightly imitate the Scorsese style, and not just because of the gangster element). Anyway, since when does art always have to be assessible? The soundtrack is near barren, almost the only time music is heard is when the characters on the screen are hearing it. All Cosmo wants to do is run his nightclub and it seems he'll do anything to keep things normal. Perhaps even something crazy as he may be crazier than he let's on. There's more to this low budget crime drama than suspected at first as well.

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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