Five Card Stud – a murder mystery set in the American West. A crooked gambler has been lynched, and someone is murdering the lynch mob one by one …
Five Card Stud (1968) starring Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum
Van Morgan: Wanna do me a favor Mama?
Mama Malone: Depends.
Van Morgan: If I’m not back by dark, will you flip that last chair up?
Mama Malone: What if you do get back?
Van Morgan: Well, I’ll just sit down and play me some cards – for money.
Five Card Stud is a good Western — that frankly could have been better. The basic plot has a crooked gambler who gets caught cheating. And the drunken people he’s playing against lynch him for it. One of the group, a professional gambler, tries to stop them. Not long after, a gun-toting Baptist preacher comes to town. And, the various members of the lynch mob are being killed, one at a time.
The basic set up is fine. The townspeople’s reaction are fear, and even panic. But the identity of the murderer is frankly obvious. And the audience sees him committing the murders, so there’s no tension as far as that goes.
After a card shark is caught cheating, he is taken out and lynched by the drunkards he was playing against. Soon afterwards, the men who were in the lynch mob start being murdered, one after another and all by hanging. Who will be killed next and who is responsible? Is it one of the original party seeking to cover their accursed deed, or perhaps the mysterious Rev. Jonathan Rudd, who has recently arrived in town?
Paramount released a first-rate Western, El Dorado, in 1967, and another, True Grit, in 1969. So why was the studio’s 1968 oater such a hunk of buzzard bait? You know Five Card Stud‘s in trouble from the opening credits–they’re too short to accommodate the Dean Martin title song, so that it spills awkwardly into the first scene. The timing never does come out right–not in the lethargic pacing, not in the lax editing (which often leaves cast members stranded onscreen at scene’s end), and not in the herky-jerky screenplay, which either lurches over intervals of weeks (months?) or piles up enough calamities in one day to stock a sequel. Even the end comes five minutes and two anticlimactic scenes late.
An after-hours poker game is underway as the film begins. A stranger is caught cheating and, over the objection of professional gambler Dean Martin, lynched. Soon there’s another stranger in town, black-clad preacher Robert Mitchum, and participants in the fatal card game start dying grotesque, solitary deaths. Five Card Stud wants to be a psychological mystery, but there’s scant psychology and no mystery at all beyond why the filmmakers thought any viewer could fail to figure it out. Martin and Mitchum sleepwalk through their roles (Martin’s includes a glum, ludicrously written romance with brothel-keeper Inger Stevens), while Roddy McDowall camps up his turn as spoiled son of the local range baron. Somewhere in the middle, the young Yaphet Kotto plays it admirably cool as a philosophical bartender. –Richard T. Jameson
Cast of characters
- Dean Martin (Scared Stiff) … Van Morgan. The professional game let who tried to prevent the lynching — and failed.
- Robert Mitchum (Holiday Affair) … Rev. Rudd. The alleged preacher who comes to town, after the lynching. Right around the time that the killings begin. Hmm …
- Inger Stevens (A Guide for the Married Man) … Lily Langford. She runs the local bordello, and has an off again – on again romance with Van.
- Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) … Nick Evers. Spoiled son of a rich man. Its eventually revealed that he led the lynch mob.
- Katherine Justice … Nora Evers. Nick’s sister, who’s sweet on Van.
- John Anderson (Psycho) … Marshal Dana. Who’s at his wits end, trying to find the murderer, with the entire town in a panic.
- Ruth Springford … Mama Malone. Running the local saloon.
- Yaphet Kotto (Alien; Live and Let Die) … Little George. Mama’s employee and bartender. Murdered, he leaves a dying clue to the identity of the villain.
- Denver Pyle (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) … Sig Evers. The wealthy man, who puts a bounty on the head of the unknown murderer.
- Bill Fletcher … Joe Hurley
- Whit Bissell (I Was a Teenage Werewolf) … Dr. Cooper
- Ted de Corsia (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) … Eldon Bates
- Don Collier … Rowan
- Roy Jenson … Mace Jones