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Savant Short Review:

5 Card Stud

5 Card Stud
Paramount Home Video
1968 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic enhanced / 103 min. / Street Date / Street Date May 28, 2002 / $24.99
Starring Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Inger Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Justice, John Anderson, Ruth Springford, Yaphet Kotto, Denver Pyle
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp
Production Designer Walter H. Tyler
Film Editor Warren Low
Original Music Maurice Jarre
Written by Marguerite Roberts from a book by Ray Gaulden
Produced by Joseph H. Hazen, Hal B. Wallis
Directed by Henry Hathaway

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 around to 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:
Movie: Fair
Video: Fair
Sound: Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 16, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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