The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Movie (1976)

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Director John Cassavetes

Producer Al Ruban

Writer John Cassavetes

Cinematography Mitchell Breit, Al Ruban

Editor Tom Comwell

Distribution Faces Distribution

Music Bo Harwood

Genre Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime 135 min

Release Date February 15, 1976

Country United States

Language English


Ben Gazzara Cosmo Vittelli

Timothy Carey Flo

Seymour Cassel Mort Weil

Morgan Woodward The Boss

Azizi Johari Rachel

Robert Philips Phil

Meade Roberts Mr. Sophistication

John Red Kullers The Accountant

Al Ruban Marty Reitz

Virginia Carrington Betty

Alice Friedland Sherry

Donna Marie Gordon Margo

Haji Haji

Carol Warren Carol

Dema Wong Davis Derna

Kathalina Veniero Annie

Val Avery Blair

Soto Joe Hugh Benny Wu

John Finnegan Lance

James Lew Wu’s Bodyguard


Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) owns and operates the Crazy Horse West, a strip club in Los Angeles. He is a gambler and above all a man of a few words. We meet him making the final payment on a seven-year gambling debt he owed to a loan shark, Marty Reitz (Al Ruban). He later invites the lender and his associates to the club to enjoy his clearance.

On the verge of entertainment, Cosmo racks up another$23,000 debt from the lender. This time around the terms of repayment are so tough for him to adhere with.

The next day, Mort Weil (Seymour Cassel) arrives at his pub and tells Cosmo that he would only settle the debt by killing bookie Harold Ling. Cosmo hesitates for a while but he is told killing the bookie is a must. He is issued with a firearm and a car that he would use to head to Ling’s house.

The security details of the bookie’s house are spelt out to Cosmo and later an assurance from them cancelling the debt if he kills. However, suspicion hits Cosmo after he identifies that the real name of the bookie is, Benny Wu (Soto Joe Hugh).

Cosmo experiences a flat tire on his way to Benny’s house. He pays a cab that takes him to a restaurant where he buys burgers to distract the guard dogs. Cosmo then manages to breach Benny’s security and he gets to the bookie, who is naked in his spa.

Benny apologizes for being a bad man and he is later shot by Cosmo. While escaping, Cosmo is also shot by a stray bullet. However, he still makes it to Rachel’s (Azizi Johari) place. Rachel’s mother, Betty (Virginia Carrington) attends to his wound, asking him to spend the night at their place. However, a reluctant Cosmo still leaves for the club.

Mort finds out that Cosmo had successfully completed his task, but his intentions are to kill him too. He sends an assassin, Flo (Timothy Carey), to fetch him. Flo finds Cosmo with Rachel at the club and he sells him out to Mort who was waiting at the parking area.

Mort finally reveals that Benny was a highly ranked Chinese boss and that they had just used him to get at the boss. Cosmo kill Mort and he flees to Rachel’s house. Betty chases him away after he tries to express his gratitude to her.

He returns to the club confessing that he is only happy when playing a role that others want of. With blood tripping from his wound, Cosmo confesses his love for Rachel in the presence of a large audience.


Director John Cassavetes ranks among the pioneers of independent American films. This movie is just an illustration of his ever exciting productions. His choice of Cosmos strip club as where the film attaches to is brilliant. It is at the club where the mission of the main character begins and ends.

The scenes are in club are elegantly styled in red and blue pool lighting. An innovative cinema backdrop in the end just sums up the admirable work of the producer. The beauty of the photography is matched up with amazing dialogue and costuming of the characters.

The plot is so interesting and unpredictable. The film begins with illustrating Cosmo as a high life club owner. You would barely expect him to accomplish a mission that even the goons think is unattainable.

The security set up in the bookie’s house is sophisticated but he miraculous ends up breaching it. It is funny that Mort promised to withdraw his debt if he killed the rich bookie. In the end. Cosmo survives and this brings a brief scene of action as Mort tries to kill him. It’s so amazing how he ends killing Morte too.

Without the flawless casting, the film would never have been such a success. A stylish Cosmo who felt like a king in his yard plays his role expertly. You would never even expect him to fight a single person but he ends up breaching an entire security.

Rachel is the beautiful showgirl in whom Cosmo is in love with. She proves of great help to him especially after being shot. Mort seems a man of decency based on how he conducts himself. But he is a leader of a gang that engages in murder and other illegal activities. Mr. Sophistication brilliantly plays the complicated master of ceremony in the end.

However, the immense images of murder and violence are mentally disturbing. Obscene images in the club also disqualify the film’s suitability to the young viewers. Despite the film being R rated, it is an absolutely classic action drama. Being a fan of the genre, I bet the producer deserves a lot of credit for this noir, and I reward it in the form of 7.4/10.

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