"There's only one kind of people I don't like: strangers."
Westerns, they are not my forte. Westerns, those are the movies that my dad likes to watch on Sunday afternoons—presuming that there aren't any good games on at that time. Westerns, they aren't something I go to see, and, if my memory serves me correctly, there's only one that I have voluntarily gone to see in the theater, Unforgiven. Westerns, I truly don't have anything against them. Westerns, this movie doesn't really fit the true definition of that genre.
Coming out in the late, hip '60s, Five Card Stud looks to have been a last ditch attempt to capitalize on the waning popularity of the western. To further bolster their chances of success, Dean Martin of The Rat Pack fame was culled to be the lead cowboy in the film. Even from my limited base of knowledge, I realized that there is nothing original in this film and is chock full of your favorite clichés; but at the end of the movie, you'll realize that there is actually something interesting and funny in there, partner.
Facts of the Case
This is going to happen quickly, so don't blink because Five Card Stud is a movie that can be quickly and easily summarized. Van Morgan (Dean Martin, Cannonball Run, Ocean's Eleven (1960), The Dean Martin Show) is perhaps the best gambler in the West; he's definitely the best gambler in the town of Rincon. One night, Van and six locals are playing some five card stud when it is discovered that the newcomer in the game is cheating. Everyone is as mad as a rattler and soon a hanging party is formed. Van tries to stop the execution but is knocked out by Nick Evers (Roddy McDowell, Planet Of The Apes (1968), Cleopatra), a player at the game and leader of this lynch mob.
When Van regains consciousness, he sadly realizes that he failed to prevent the murder of the cheater. Being uncomfortable with staying in Rincon, he leaves for Denver to try his gambling skills in the big city.
Things happen quickly in Rincon. No sooner has Van left when gold is discovered in them nearby hills, and with gold comes a flock of newcomers to town including Reverend Jonathon Rudd (Robert Mitchum, The Winds of War, North and South, Midway, Cape Fear (1962)) and Lily Langford, who opens "The Tonsorial Parlor" (AKA a barber shop—run and staffed by very attractive women; reread above). The new reverend quickly makes himself known to the townsfolk and is soon giving quite a rousing sermon to a full church about the evils lurking in every nook and cranny of the town—as evidenced by the recent unsolved hanging of the newcomer to town.
The very next day, two more men and found murdered. The sheriff is at a loss and the residents are getting afraid. News of the murders makes its way to the Denver newspaper where Van reads the story. He realizes that the two dead men were members of that fateful lynch mob. Knowing he could be a target, he decides to venture back to Rincon because it's better to confront danger head on.
Van's instincts are right for he quick figures out that someone is out for revenge as, one by one, members of the hanging party are being killed. Who is the murderer? Why is he/she killing the card players? Will Van be killed or will he find the killer? Will Van find true love in Rincon? Will Roddy do any monkey impressions? Will Dean break out into song?
Yes, Dean will break out into song! The fantastic crooner himself sings the main title. That in and of itself almost makes this disc worthy. Yes, you're right, I'm lying. A Vegas-like ballad in the Old West just doesn't quite work. Actually, Dean Martin playing a cowboy just doesn't quite work either. While he does his best and puts on a good show, you can never believe that he belongs in this setting. I kept waiting for him to go into the next room, put on a tuxedo, and come strolling out with a cigarette in one hand and a stiff drink in the other. Now, please know that Dean's performance is quite serviceable though not entirely believable. Add to that solid performances by other veterans like Mitchum, McDowell, Denver Pyle (You remember him, right? Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard; how could you forget?), and others and this is a decent little Western, though certainly not among the best.
I enjoyed the direction and cinematography on this film. Director Henry Hathaway (How the West Was Won, The Desert Fox) made great use of the limited locations and used a wide variety of interesting angles and cuts to add some tension and excitement to the film. Many of the outdoor scenes were beautifully framed and added to the ambience of the film. All that was missing was the classic bright red and orange sunset scene.
For a little-known film from 1968, I was surprised by the quality of the video transfer. While certainly nowhere near reference quality, this film sports a nice anamorphic widescreen print. What struck me most were the colors; they were accurate, well defined, and rich. Unfortunately, there are several problems that significantly detract from the surprising lushness of the colors. Foremost is the amount of dirt on the transfer. From the first frame to the last, there is an abundance of black and white dirt speckles to distract you from the film—actually, they're just a minor distraction and do not ruin the movie. Additionally, however, there are also some vertical scratch lines in the final third of the movie. But, I think this is to be expected for a 35 year old film and am nonetheless impressed at how clean the print is overall. Unfortunately, there is one more problem: pixels and fuzzy edges. Just about every edge on every object (or person) looses its smoothness as it moves into the background of a shot. Instead of being a smooth corner or sharp line, the edge breaks down into pixels.
On the audio front, you have a mono track. Nothing spectacular in any way on this one, and it is far from perfect in its own right. The problem here is that the score consistently overwhelms the dialogue. I found that I had to have my volume set higher than normal (as compared to other DVDs) so I could easily understand the words; however, when the music was the only thing on the track, it was just a bit too loud for comfort.
Alas, this is yet another bare bones disc from Paramount. (Is anyone keeping count?) There's nothing extra, not even a theatrical trailer or filmography; even the menus are static and boring.
Before I move on, I have some random thoughts about the movie I would like to present:
• This movie has all your favorite cowboy clichés: the
telegraphed punches, the swagger, the poker games, the piano in the bar, and the
fire and brimstone sermon by the preacher.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You didn't mention Indians. Aren't there any Indians? What about buffalo? Gunfights? Showdowns in the street? What kind of Western is this?
It isn't your typical Western; but, be calm. Remember, I did mention the word "cliché," so while there aren't any Indians, there are gunfights, showdowns, men being dragged by horses, and bar fights. What more could you want?
"You saved my life. I owe you so name it."
Because of the layer of comedy in this film, I recommend Five Card Stud. There isn't much of a mystery, but you'll enjoy the cheap jabs made at Dean's expense and his light-footed interaction with the ladies. The gunfights aren't too bad either; and, if I recall, something blows up quite nicely too. A nice atypical Western for those of you who enjoy this genre.
While the transfers are not top-notch, I was pleasantly surprised by the video quality to hereby (reluctantly) acquit Paramount of any charges. The dirt probably could have been cleaned better, but it may have been cost prohibitive for this movie. Also, who is to say if any supplemental material is available; but who is going to give Paramount any benefit of the doubt at this point? Their pitiful track record continues. Case dismissed.
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