- Directed by Henry Hathaway
- July 31, 1968
Members of a lynch mob are being picked off one by one and now the hunt is on for who is responsible.
In the opening of 5 Card Stud there is the conclusion of a card game where one of the players, an unnamed stranger, is accused of cheating and promptly hanged by a group of other players. This is the event that starts it all. Gotta give props to a film that starts things right away and does not fool around.
5 Card Stud is a Western murder mystery. Or at least it tries to be. There are really two main suspects in this film and in my opinion one gets discounted pretty quickly. The problem is that the two characters that are introduced are not only introduced after the lynching scene but are strangers to all the central characters. That’s a pretty big clue it’s one of those two.
I think this film, while I found it entertaining, would have been vastly more effective if all of the characters had some knowledge of each other. Then it would have been a lot more uncertain of who was responsible for the assorted murders. In this aspect I was reminded of many of the detective shows of the 80s where you knew or pretty well knew who was responsible and the point of the story was how the main character figured it out.
What really makes this film is the cast. We have the legendary Robert Mitchum as Reverend Jonathan Rudd, the amazing Yaphet Cotto as George as well as the always entertaining Dean Martin as central character Van Morgan. And all this talent is helmed under the able hand of Henry Hathaway. Hathaway directed many great Westerns in his time.
Roddy McDowall was especially good as Nick Evers-a member of the lynch mob. Nick is just a real jerk and completely unlikable-at least when it comes to his interactions with Van Morgan. Nick is clearly a racist. He has an axe to grind with Van’s friend George that has less to do with his association with Van and more to do with the color of his skin. That is not so much said as it is conveyed.
Nick can even mistreat his friends. The person he seems to treat decently at all is his sister Nora (Katherine Justice). And that is only in comparison to everyone else. Many of his issues with the charming gambler Van come from the relationship he had with Nora. McDowall gave Nick a general contempt for all and everything.
Reverend Rudd and Lily Langford (Inger Stevens), who owns what is implied to be a brothel, are quickly made into the two most likely suspects with Nick implied to be one as well but disregarded during the course of most of Van’s investigation. Given the friendly and romantic nature of Van’s interactions with Lily you can guess who the one and only suspect is.
There are twists and turns but nothing too shocking and perhaps it is because early on you figure out who is the murderer. Still though the film manages to maintain a certain tension and hold your interest because it just forces you to wonder how it is all going to turn out.
Mitchum was the rare actor that could be on screen and look tough while doing nothing but also just hold his own with the best of them when it came to acting. From his first moments in the film, he is tough and charming and mysterious. Hathaway maintains that throughout with very little being revealed about the character even at the end. You only know just enough as it connects to the thrust of the plot.
5 Card Stud becomes a bit of a procedural as Van Morgan questions those involved and tries to come up with a possible suspect. He was there but unable to stop the event and now believes he is on the hitlist. It becomes a race against time to find an individual connected to a man who he doesn’t even know the name of. Despite the lack of a strong mystery element the acting was good and the plot was overall well executed.
Martin plays on his public persona as well as reaching into his performance from The Sons of Katie Elder (also helmed by Hathaway). Van is the charming bad boy who is only interested in a short-term relationship but also with a sense of right and wrong.
5 Card Stud is an enjoyable Western. Its major flaw it manages to overcome with solid performances and good direction. If you happen to find this watch it!