After being coaxed into playing cards with money he didn't have, nightclub owner, Cosmo (Gazzara) finds himself in way over his head with debts beyond his capabilities. So faced with an alternative, he chooses to, at the request of his debtor, kill a Chinese bookie. But can he go through with it?
This semi-improvised, self-confessed rambling character study is like Broadway Danny Rose with guns. Cosmo, struggling manager of a sparkly but seedy nightclub, is duped by mobster Cassel into running up a gambling debt he can only pay off by carrying out the title contract. The emotional climax is not the gangland shoot-out but a gunshot Gazzara's return to the club where he delivers a pep talk to his exotic dancers and a neurotic comedian.
The film works up a desperate enthusiasm for the third-rate club, investing the speciality turns with a compelling erotic sadness, and Gazzara gives a marvellously unshowy performance, inhabiting his role with a host of tiny, telling gestures.
With a star turn from Gazzara as the nightclub owner, you begin to sympathise with someone you perhaps wouldn't normally as he finds himself backed into a corner by wily mobster Cassel. With a heavily improvised script Cassavetes gets the most from his actors, each giving emotive performances.