Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Poker played a part in four major Hollywood films in the 1960s. Beginning in 1965 with THE CINCINNATI KID, each year brought a film that featured the game of poker as either a major plot point or as a memorable scene. Consider A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (1966), a terrific western "sting" film, COOL HAND LUKE (1967) with the classic line, "sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand" and 5 CARD STUD (1968) which starts with a deadly poker game.

Dean Martin stars as professional gambler and card player Van Morgan. A man is caught cheating at a poker game and all of the other players, including ringleader Nick Evers (Roddy McDowall), want to lynch the cheater. Morgan tries to stop the hanging but he's knocked out by Evers. Disgusted with the town of Rincon, Morgan leaves for Denver. In his absence, gold is found outside of Rincon which leads to a boom. Among the new residents of the town are Reverend Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum) and barber shop/whore house proprietor Lily Langford (Inger Stevens).

The men involved in the lynching are murdered one by one which brings Morgan back to town to investigate. Spoiler warning: Rudd is the killer, the brother of the hanged man. He's out for revenge and the victims are identified to him by Evers. Morgan is the last man standing which leads to a shootout between him and the deadly pastor.

Martin barely takes things seriously here. While not on the level of his performances in the Matt Helm films, Martin swaggers through the film with a shit-eating grin on his face most of the time. He delivers a few one-liners with a smile and a twinkle in his eye and let's us know that everything is going to turn out right because, hey, he's Dean Martin. Mitchum's character and performance plays heavily on his classic film noir, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). All he needs is the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles. For eye candy, there's the always gorgeous Inger Stevens (who ends up with Martin at the end) and the very lovely Katherine Justice as Roddy McDowall's sister. Add in supporting players Yaphet Kotto, Denver Pyle, John Anderson and Whit Bissell and you've got a fun, entertaining western

Director Henry Hathaway had a long career making a name for himself in both film noir and westerns. His noirs include THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945), THE DARK CORNER (1946), KISS OF DEATH (1947), 13 RUE MADELEINE (1947), CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948), FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) and NIAGARA (1953). Hathaway westerns include RAWHIDE (1951), FROM HELL TO TEXAS (1958), NORTH TO ALASKA (1960), HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962), THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER (1965), NEVADA SMITH (1966), TRUE GRIT (1969) and SHOOT OUT (1971). Hathaway never achieved the rarefied air of contemporaries Howard Hawks and John Ford but he made solid, durable films that still stand up today.

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