The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenwriters: John Cassavetes

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


Here begins a Cassavetes obsession with the imagery of gangsters that has never quite come to fruition. It reappears in Gloria (a film about which Casavetes is ambivalent, at best); in the script-in-progress of Gloria II; and in several produced scripts involving gangsters, criminals, and their wives. Think of Nick (Peter Falk in A Woman under the Influence) or Gus (Cassavetes in Husbands) unable to sleep, staring up at the ceiling, and having a murderous and masturbatory fantasy: that is The Killing of a Chines Bookie.

That image puts this film into the context of Cassavetes’s other expressions of the male psyche. Beautifully shot, disturbingly memorable, the film takes this common sort of male fantasy to its inevitable dead end for Cassavetes. That’s a statement in itself, but, especially coming right after Woman, it doesn’t seem enough of one. What we come away with is mob-haunted Ben Gazzara’s bemused, lost expression that floats like a question mark through this dark, cloudy story.

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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