Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Among several much better Westerns, Paramount has released this not-very-impressive effort from
Henry Hathaway that features some good actors in a murder mystery plot that never becomes
interesting. Dean Martin is more sober than usual and things perk up whenever Robert Mitchum's
on screen, but there's not a whole lot happening here.
When a card cheat is secretly lynched, the five men responsible all start turning
up strangled by various grisly methods. Gambler Van Morgan (Dean Martin) tried to stop
the lynching, which came about mostly because of Nick Evers (Roddy McDowall), an unlikeable sort who
thinks that one of the lynchers is killing the rest to eliminate witnesses to the crime. Van sticks
sort out the mess personally, as a pair of newcomers get the attention of the town: Lily Langford
(Inger Stevens), a madam who uses a barbershop for a front; and the Reverend Johnathan Rudd (Robert
Mitchum) a gun-toting preacher not above using his six-shooters to fill his church.
Lazy and uninspired, 5 Card Stud plays like a television Western, even with the star-calibre
presence of Martin and Mitchum, who, interestingly enough, played John Wayne's two drunken sidekicks in
Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo and its remake, El Dorado). In contrast to his flippant
contributions to his Matt Helm movies, Dino is much more committed to this role, and looks stone
cold sober to boot. Robert Mitchum starts off well with a lively hellraising sermon, and dominates every
scene he's in with sheer star presence that improves everyone's performance, even Martin's.
But there's trouble elsewhere in the casting. Making Roddy McDowall a bad-seed heir to a cattle ranch
sounds like a good idea, but Henry Hathaway's by-the-numbers direction offers him no help, and he just
flounders in an unclear character. Inger Stevens is wasted in a pointless role wearing some
cheaply designed and embarrassingly anachronistic costumes. Most of the rest of the casting puts standard
Western actors in dull roles with nothing much to do - John Anderson's sheriff, Denver Pyle's rancher,
Whit Bissell, Ted de Corsia, etc. The standout is relative newcomer Yaphet Kotto, who has a good part
and gives it a lot of personality. Marguerite Roberts' uneven script spreads klunker dialogue around, but
saddles the females with the most embarassing lines. Female ingenue lead Katherine Justice tries to look
perky and sweet but just comes off as Dino's toy.
The mystery angle - Who is doing all this killing?, immediately points to Mitchum's stern preacher, which
isn't as interesting as it sounds. Mitchum's murderous bible-beater in the classic Night of the
Hunter was virtually forgotten in 1968, so there's no attempt to play off that character. With no
viable red herrings, the plot drags in an ill-motivated shootout that requires a bunch of sober miners
to be so worried about the violence, they start a big shootout in the street.
The production trappings are nothing to hoot about either. The Western town set looks like Matt
Dillon should be filming at the opposite end. The musical score is provided by
suave waltzmaster Maurice Jarre. It sounds like slightly Westernized themes from his
Eyes Without a Face, and is the single most inappropriate music score Savant's ever heard
in a Western. (2nd place goes to the constant guitar misery of Sam Peckinpah's The Deadly
Companions.) Jarre also wrote the music for the dreadful title tune, warbled, naturally, by Dean Martin.
Paramount's DVD of 5 Card Stud is no great beauty. The transfer and encoding show less care
than usual, with wavy scratches coming through at one point and digital image enhancement that
crisps-up details and highlights too harshly. Color and audio are fine. The disc has no extras, not
even a trailer.
Robert Mitchum manages some nice moments and a touch of suspense, but this Western with a card game title,
but almost no card-playing, is strictly for his and Dean Martin's confirmed fans.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
5 Card Stud rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 16, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson