A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (1966), is the second film I've watched recently dealing with a poker game. The other was THE CINCINNATI KID (1965) (which was the better film). I'm thinking I may have to schedule a viewing of COOL HAND LUKE (1967) soon. Remember, sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.
I'd seen LITTLE LADY years ago and it was fun to revisit it, even though I knew what was coming. The story concerns an annual high stakes poker game in Laredo. The players are all high rollers and they include undertaker Tropp (Charles Bickford), cattleman Henry Drummond (Jason Robards), lawyer Otto Habershaw (Kevin McCarthy, whom I met once at a monster movie convention), Wilcox (Robert Middleton) and Buford (John Qualen).
Settlers Meredith (Henry Fonda), his wife Mary (Joanne Woodward) and their young son Jackie (Gerald Michenaud) are passing through town on their way to San Antonio when their wagon breaks. While repairs are being made, Meredith, a former gambling addict, asks to be allowed to just watch the game. Permission is granted and before you know it, he's joined the game and has lost all of the family's savings. When it's his turn to deal, it appears that everyone has been dealt a possible winning hand causing the pot to skyrocket. Before Meredith can bet, he suffers a heart attack and is forced to leave the game. Mary takes his place at the table, and with no knowledge of poker and aided by banker C.P. Ballinger (Paul Ford) who lends her money based on seeing her hand, she plays the game.
To say anything more would spoil the major third act plot twist. Suffice it to say, it's a doozy. A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY has a great cast and it's well directed by Fielder Cook but the film has a slightly claustrophobic and stagy feel as much of the action takes place in a saloon back room where the poker game is played. That's no surprise because the material was originally written by Sidney Carroll as BIG DEAL IN LAREDO, an episode of the television series THE DUPONT SHOW OF THE WEEK in 1962. Carroll expanded his teleplay for the big screen and opened the action up a bit, added some characters and lengthened the running time. It still plays like a spruced up made-for-television movie but that really doesn't matter because the actors are all having fun and the gotcha is a very clever bit of sleight of hand.
I enjoyed A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY. It's no classic but you could do much worse. It's a great way to kill 95 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.