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Sunday, October 13, 2013

5 Card Stud (released in 1968) - Starring Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and Inger Stevens

“Five card stud” is the earliest known game of card poker, so no guesses with regard to what the plot is: Cards and a few handsome men thrown in for good measure! Directed by Henry Hathaway, the story of the movie is sourced from a book by Ray Gaulden and is also a remake of a Charlton Heston debut film ‘Dark City’ (1950). In the current movie, Dean Martin plays the role that Heston assayed in the original film; Martin’s character is similar to the one he played in ‘Some Came Running’. The story of the film bears resemblance even to two works by Agatha Christie. Yet, the movie was captivating, although the story line was not unique, it was accepted and appreciated by movie going audiences of the time.
The film opens with seven men at a game of cards, in a typically western saloon, in 1880 in a town in Colorado. Van Morgan (played by Dean Martin) chooses to spend Saturday evening with the boys - his partners are Nick Evers (his girlfriend’s brother, played by Roddy McDowell), stableman Joe Hurley (played by Bill Fletcher), Mace Jones (played by Roy Jenson), storekeeper Fred Carson (played by Boyd Morgan) and Nick’s ranch hand Stoney Borough (played by George Robotham). They have a new partner, Frankie Rudd (played by Jerry Gaitlin); all’s well up until the time that Nick catches Rudd cheating, although the barkeeper – George, warns him - Frankie earns himself a cruel fate, meted out by  none other  than the men at the table - they drag him out to  stream and hang him near a bridge. "You don't hang a cheat," Morgan growls, "you kick him out of town." But the men ignore Morgan, who is knocked out cold. He is left on the boardwalk, where Mama Malone (played by Ruth Springford) finds him in the morning – she calls George who helps the weather-beaten Van to his room. Lacking courage to inform the town marshal, he leaves for Denver.

Sometime later, Morgan returns, and to his horror, learns that there have been two deaths – of the men who were at the game that night; it seems like they are revenge killings: strangulation by barbed wire, stuffed into a barrel of flour (ingenious!), each death more horrific than the other, till only he would remain alive, the others were all about to be strategically bumped off! Also, the town has acquires a gun slinging priest Jonathan Rudd (Robert Mitchum) - who, Van discovers later is none other than the murdered man Frankie’s brother. On the other hand, Nick is convinced that the killer was in some way related to the man he killed: so, it seems logical that he try and hunt him down. Who could it be - there’s a gold rush on, and with so many strangers in town, it’s hard to tell!
Although they were together that evening at the game, Nick has no love lost for Van Morgan, who happens to be dating his sister Nora (Katherine Justice). But it isn’t brotherly love or concern that he is seething with - in fact he hates Nora and his father. His angst is that if Nora were to marry, the rambling ranch and all its wealth would be inherited by his sister - leaving him out in the cold. He’d rather that Nora married someone he, Nick, chose. That way, the poor unsuspecting creature could easily be put out of the way and Nick would have no worries. A string fella like Morgan wouldn’t be that easily taken care of!
Nick chooses to play dirty, and discloses the names of the perpetrators to Jonathan, hoping he’d kill Van Morgan, making his life easier! He even beguiles Rudd by telling him a far fetched version of that night where it was Nick who tried to talk sense into the men and he who was knocked out trying to save Frankie. Is the real killer brought to justice? Is Frankie’s spirit finally at rest? Western-mystery-thriller-noir- an interesting package, worth the watch!

5 Card Stud (released in 1968) - Starring Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and Inger Stevens

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