Set during the Great Depression, The Cincinnati Kid is a 1965 drama directed by Norman Jewison and starring Steve McQueen – who was, in fact, 35 years old at the time of release – in the title role. In the Thirties, Eric Stoner (McQueen), a.k.a. ‘The Cincinnati Kid’, is a promising young poker player in New Orleans. His quest to garner a reputation as the best player around leads him to challenge the ruthless Lancey ‘The Man’ Howard (Edward G. Robinson) and, ultimately, a climactic showdown with his nemesis.
Stoner is aided and abetted by his friend Shooter (Karl Malden), who thought he was the best five-card stud player in the world before his own encounter with Howard. Indeed, at the home of William Slade (Rip Torn) – a wealthy, corrupt and arrogant businessman, who has already lost heavily to Howard – the host blackmails Shooter to cheat in favour of Stoner by way of revenge.
Six players start the final game, but over a matter of hours, the field is whittled down to just Howard and Stoner. Heads-up, Shooter does, in fact, cheat in favour of Stoner but, after a series of unlikely winning hands, Stoner calls him out and refuses to continue, despite threats from Slade and his menacing associate. Lady Fingers (Joan Blondell) takes over the dealing, on the pretence that Shooter is ill, but Stoner continues to prosper.
However, in a far-fetched final hand, Stoner turns up a full house, aces full of tens, only to be denied by Howard, who turns up a queen-high straight flush; to put matters in perspective, the odds against both those hands occurring in heads-up play are 332,000,000,000/1. Nevertheless, the fanciful outcome costs Stoner all his money, plus an additional $5,000 raise, and he is ridiculed by Howard and Slade as he leaves the table. Outside, he loses a game of pitch and toss to the same show shine boy that he beat at the same game at the start of the film.