Daily Archives: February 4, 2012

Ben Gazzara

1930-2012. RIP.

The first time I saw The Killing of a Chinese Bookie I didn’t know anything about Gazzara– maybe I’d seen him playing a hard-bitten noncom in some WWII flick– and even less about John Cassavetes. As the credits rolled, my friend remarked that KCB was a kind of anti-movie: an incoherent narrative, seemingly improvised dialog, long stretches of uncomfortable tension while the actors tried to find their scenes. And true enough Cassavetes’s film-making is the antithesis of the kind of Spielbergian schmaltz we’ve all been raised on. (See, for example Shadows or A Woman Under the Influence.) If people of a certain age will remember Gazzara for Road House, where he faces off against Patrick Swayze, others will surely rate Bookie as one of the crests of a long career. His manner of speech, which resembles the clipped elocution of Richard Conte, seems to me to be deep in the American grain. It evokes a world where people use “spaghetti-bender” as a casual insult and actually wear cufflinks. Here’s a clip from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie with Gazzara as Cosmo Vitelli, small-time strip club owner.